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Mozilla's Founder Wants to Block Ads on Mobile So He Can Serve You Different Ads

Brendan Eich has a plan to revolutionize ad blocking, by providing more ads. It sounds crazy, but it just might work.
Image: Brave/YouTube

Ad blockers are becoming increasingly common, but if you're an avid reader, maybe you feel a little twinge of guilt at depriving your favorite website the smidgen of revenue it earns off your clicks.

Brendan Eich, the co-founder of Mozilla and inventor of JavaScript, wants to assuage your guilt with his new project, Brave. Brave functions as a browser on desktop and mobile devices, blocks ads and trackers from the sites you visit, and incorporates HTTPS Everywhere, a browser plugin developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation that ensures an encrypted connection whenever possible. Sounds somewhat similar to AdBlock, Peace, and every other ad-blocking browser you've heard of recently, right? Here's the difference: Brave blocks ads, but then replaces them with other ads.


Brave is being referred to as a browser, and while you can install it on your computer or phone and use it browse the web, it's important to note that its primary function is as a vehicle for ad sales. Eich himself doesn't call Brave a browser, but rather a "browser-based ad-tech platform." Brave isn't intended to revolutionize web browsing; in fact, it's based on pre-existing browsers like Firefox and Chromium. Instead, Brave aims to reinvent online advertising.

Brave comes with all the harbingers of techno-utopianism—amped-up privacy features, a profit-sharing model that lets everyone involved feel a bit like an entrepreneur, and, of course, bitcoin. The ad-free browsing experience has been attempted before, but developers have run into controversy from web publishers, who say that ad-blocking thwarts a major revenue stream. The problem came to a head with the launch of Peace, created by Tumblr co-founder Marco Arment, last year. Arment pulled his ad blocker from the App Store after just 36 hours, writing on his blog that the success of the app didn't feel good. "Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don't deserve the hit," he wrote on his blog.

But even though the premise of replacing ads with even more ads seems bizarre, the utopian approach might actually work. "Blockers can make the user experience of the Web much better. But as Marco Arment noted, they don't feel good to many folks. They feel like free-riding, or even starting a war," Eich explains on Brave's website. "With enough people blocking ads, the Web's main funding model is in jeopardy."


Brave intends to serve only "clean ads" that won't track users or slow down browsing. The revenue generated by these clean ads will be split between Brave, advertisers, web publishers, and users. Publishers will receive the largest cut—55 percent of the revenue—while Brave, advertisers, and users will each receive 15 percent. Eich's sales pitch to users is simple: block the ads that slow down your browser and invade your privacy, while still financially supporting the websites you love. Users receive small bitcoin payments for their browsing, which they can pay forward to their favorite websites in exchange for ad-free viewing.

The incorporation of HTTPS Everywhere is also an important security step for mobile browsing explains Yan Zhu, Brave's senior software engineer for privacy and security. Zhu previously made the browser extension, which forces a more secure https connection on sites that allow it, available for Firefox on Android. But users had to jump through too many hurdles: first, installing a non-default browser, and then downloading the browser extension. "They had to take extra steps and that created an adoption problem," Zhu told Motherboard by phone. With Brave, "We just want you to download the browser and have https on." Building security in at the browser level instead of relying on extensions also makes browsing faster, Zhu explained.

With faster browsing and stronger security, Brave could easily attract users (it needs around 7 million users to be viable, according to Ars Technica). But the pitch for publishers is a little trickier —Brave pushes them into a bitcoin-based payment system by automatically establishing bitcoin wallets for publishers and depositing their cut of the ad revenue into them. It's up to publishers to figure out how to collect. Still, the concept isn't unheard of. Google offers a similar strategy, called Contributor, which allows users to make micropayments to websites in exchange for a reduction in advertising.

Brave published its source code on Github this week, so more technical users can install and test it today. Non-technical users will have to wait for the official launch, which has not yet been announced but is expected later this year.