Brave, an ad-blocking web browser with a blockchain-based twist, has started trials of ads that reward viewers for watching them — the next step in its ambitious push towards a consent-based, pro-privacy overhaul of online advertising.
Brave’s Basic Attention Token (BAT) is the underlying micropayments mechanism it’s using to fuel the model. The startup was founded in 2015 by former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, and had a hugely successful initial coin offering last year.
In a blog post announcing the opt-in trial yesterday, Brave says it’s started “voluntary testing” of the ad model before it scales up to additional user trials.
These first tests involve around 250 “pre-packaged ads” being shown to trial volunteers via a dedicated version of the Brave browser that’s both loaded with the ads and capable of tracking users’ browsing behavior.
The startup signed up Dow Jones Media Group as a partner for the trial-based ad content back in April.
People interested in joining these trials are being asked to contact its Early Access group — via community.brave.com.
Brave says the test is intended to analyze user interactions to generate test data for training its on-device machine learning algorithms. So while its ultimate goal for the BAT platform is to be able to deliver ads without eroding individual users’ privacy via this kind of invasive tracking, the test phase does involve “a detailed log” of browsing activity being sent to it.
Though Brave also specifies: “Brave will not share this information, and users can leave this test at any time by switching off this feature or using a regular version of Brave (which never logs user browsing data to any server).”
“Once we’re satisfied with the performance of the ad system, Brave ads will be shown directly in the browser in a private channel to users who consent to see them. When the Brave ad system becomes widely available, users will receive 70% of the gross ad revenue, while preserving their privacy,” it adds.
The key privacy-by-design shift Brave is working towards is moving ad targeting from a cloud-based ad exchange to the local device where users can control their own interactions with marketing content, and don’t have to give up personal data to a chain of opaque third parties (armed with hooks and data-sucking pipes) in order to do so.
Local device ad targeting will work by Brave pushing out ad catalogs (one per region and natural language) to available devices on a recurring basis.
“Downloading a catalog does not identify any user,” it writes. “As the user browses, Brave locally matches the best available ad from the catalog to display that ad at the appropriate time. Brave ads are opt-in and consent-based (disabled by default), and engineered to operate without leaking the user’s personal data from their device.”
It couches this approach as “a more efficient and direct opportunity to access user attention without the inherent liabilities and risks involved with large scale user data collection”.
Though there’s still a ways to go before Brave is in a position to prove out its claims — including several more testing phases.
Brave says it’s planning to run further studies later this month with a larger set of users that will focus on improving its user modeling — “to integrate specific usage of the browser, with the primary goal of understanding how behavior in the browser impacts when to deliver ads”.
“This will serve to strengthen existing modeling and data classification engines and to refine the system’s machine learning,” it adds.
After that it says it will start to expand user trials — “in a few months” — focusing testing on the impact of rewards in its user-centric ad system.
“Thousands of ads will be used in this phase, and users will be able to earn tokens for viewing and interacting with ads,” it says of that.
Brave’s initial goal is for users to be able to reward content producers via the utility BAT token stored in a payment wallet baked into the browser. The default distributes the tokens stored in a users’ wallet based on time spent on Brave-verified websites (though users can also make manual tips).
Though payments using BAT may also ultimately be able to do more.
Its roadmap envisages real ad revenue and donation flow fee revenue being generated via its system this year, and also anticipates BAT integration into “other apps based on open source & specs for greater ad buying leverage and publisher onboarding”.