With Brave Software, JavaScript’s Creator Is Building A Browser For The Ad-Blocked Future

Brendan Eich, creator of JavaScript programming language and former CEO of Mozilla, is working on something new — a web browser that will block ads (particularly the kinds that slow performance and use personal data) while still potentially making money for publishers.

Eich’s startup Brave Software isn’t making the browser available for general usage today, but it’s outlining its vision and allowing users to sign up for access to an early version of the product. In a post published on the Brave homepage, Eich noted that ad blockers can create a better web browsing experience, but he suggested that they “feel like free-riding, or even starting a war,” with good publishers getting hurt or creating an “arms race” where they adopt technology to block the ad blockers.

“At Brave, we’re building a solution designed to avert war and give users the fair deal they deserve for coming to the Web to browse and contribute,” Eich wrote. And an interview, he told me, “We’re doing something bigger than an ad blocker.”

At a basic level, Brave is a browser that blocks ads, as well as a variety of data collection technologies, such as analytics scripts and impression-tracking pixels — as Eich put it, “We clear the whole swimming pool of algae.”

But there are some important nuances here. For one thing, Eich said Brave won’t block all ads, because native, trackerless ads that only use the publisher’s own data will appear to the browser as normal content, and won’t be blocked.

Perhaps more significantly, Brave eventually plans to insert ads of its own, albeit in a way that shouldn’t affect page performance in a significant way or be targeted using personal data. Here’s how Eich explained the ad placement process in his post:

By default Brave will insert ads only in a few standard-sized spaces. We find those spaces via a cloud robot (so users don’t have to suffer, even a few canaries per screen size-profile, with ad delays and battery draining). We will target ads based on browser-side intent signals phrased in a standard vocabulary, and without a persistent user id or highly re-identifiable cookie.

It’s easy to criticize an ad blocker that runs advertising as hypocritical — indeed, Eich himself said white lists that let certain advertisers through the blocker can look like “kind of a shakedown.” The distinction might seem like a small one, but the aim of Brave isn’t to create a list of approved advertisers, or to aggressively pursue ad dollars: “We hope our users will form a valuable enough audience that our browser-side anonymous targeting will get ads from the buy side organically. We don’t want to play games.”

The idea is to split this ad revenue, giving publishers 55 percent or more, and eventually approaching a 70-30 split as the browser grows. Consumers could get a cut of this revenue as well, which could they funnel back to their favorite publishers through a Bitcoin wallet.

Is this going to win over every consumer and publisher right away, or address every criticism of ad blocking? Probably not, but Eich is hoping to attract the ones who are forward-thinking and, yes, brave.