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Browsing with Brave

May 8, 2017
Updated: December 18, 2018

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was recently listening to Software Engineering Daily, and caught this interview with Brendan Eich, creator of JavaScript and co-founder of Mozilla. In it he discusses his vision for the future of the web, including his work on WebAssembly (a faster web language) and Brave (a new browser). Brave sounded interesting: it automatically blocks all trackers, mediated ads, and cookies, and replaces the ads with its own.

Security

Blocking ads prevents malware spread through malvertising. Trackers and cookies log your activities and follow you across sites. Brave blocks these and prevents companies from gathering data about you. Brave also integrates HTTPS everywhere, which attempts to encrypt your traffic over https if its supported on a given website.

Brave monetizes through BitCoin to further enhance security. The Brave browser you download is the only application that keeps track of browsing history (unlike Chrome). This makes it difficult to send money online, but Brave solves this through the use of BitCoin and Anonize (a protocol used to shield BitCoin transactions).

“We don’t want to be a tracker. We don’t want that data. It’s better that we can’t have it than that we could have it and promise to be good,” says Eich.

Brave ads are also more secure than normal ads, while using less of your personal information.

"The ad matching happens only on your device…we can have a catalog to download…[then Brave] can come up with keywords to match against. Again, if the user of Brave doesn’t opt into this, none of this happens…In the Brave philosophy, we keep your data local. It’s encrypted if it goes anywhere near servers that we control, and it’s encrypted with your key, not ours." Brendan Eich

Like Chrome and Firefox, Brave is open source.

Brave doesn't make you completely anonymous on the web. If you want to hide your IP, you should look into a VPN or Tor. Ensure you have never been pwned, and be wary of the websites you give your info. Consider using Signal (a secure MMS replacement) or other messaging services that utilize end-to-end encryption. And of course, do not reuse passwords across sites. I use KeePass to keep track of all my unique passwords, but LastPass and 1password are good alternatives too.

Monetization

Some people don't like the ad replacement model, but it sounds like it could be great for users and publishers. Ads that are manually placed by publishers/content creators are left alone (e.g. a static image in the site, amazon affiliate link, shoutout in a podcast), only those that go through the slow loading and fradulent digital ad mediation industry are replaced. Once a user has seen/clicked a Brave ad, the revenue is divided up in the following manner.

Brave rev share

Notice that the user gets a cut! This is paid out via Bit Coin (they partner with BitGo), and users have the choice of withdrawing it or funneling it into their Brave Payments system. Brave Payments takes your ad (or manual) contributions and distributes it to your favorite sites proportional to the time spent there. If you are donating money directly, Brave's share goes to 5%. Sites are contacted and can pick up their payments by contacting Brave. It does all this without saving your data to external servers. Unfortunately this system is not quite ready for users to receive payments, but brave is working on it.

Chrome Comparison

To test it out, I went to a random Forbes article and watched the network impact (hit F12, go to Network tab) as the page loaded on my wired 60mpbs connection. I did not scroll or click anything on the page, and had cache disabled (so subsequent views wouldn't be sped up). The longer and more frequent the bars, the more data is loaded into the page. The following images give a rough outline of the impact of ad blockers; be sure to note the time scales.

Forbes Article Unblocked Chrome
Chrome, Ads allowed (similar in Brave)
Forbes Article ublock Chrome
Chrome, uBlock Origin
Forbes Article Brave ads
Brave, Brave Ads
Forbes Article Brave Block
Brave, Ads blocked

This data, while small, shows some interesting conclusions:

  1. Data wise, actual content is a small part of the page
  2. If you don't have a 60mpbs, wired connection, you could be waiting a long time
  3. Brave seems to have an edge up on uBlock Origin. Makes sense, as Brave has lower level access (browser vs plugin)
  4. Brave Ads and Brave, No Ads seem to have nearly indistinguishable load times. This could be because all ads are still being blocked - Brave doesn't replace every ad, or due to the faster ad selection process that is done locally on your device.

As for rendering, games, and that sort of thing, Brave uses the same engine as Chrome, Chromium, so it's just as fast.

Impressions

On mobile Brave flies. I have found very little difference from Chrome when navigating with the browser, visually or otherwise, except the great speed benefits (Chrome disables ad blockers on mobile). It even performs faster than FireFox + Ad Blockers due to its better rendering engine.

Speed is great, but there's more to performance than brute speed. On desktop Brave's visual design differs a bit Chrome, but the buttons and settings are all mostly in the same places, which simplifies the process of getting started. In Chrome, incognito mode opens a new window, while in Brave it opens a new tab (which is not counted in Brave Payments). You can also open new session tabs, where all your logins are refreshed without having to go into private/incognito mode. Hovering your mouse over a tab gives a grayed out preview of its page, so you don't have to fully commit to a tiresome click when refreshing your memory. These style changes make the browser feel more "app-like": the tabbing focus makes it easier to have multiple activities going on in a single window, minimizing context switching.

The Brave browser

Unfortunately Brave is definitely still rough around the edges. While mostly compatible with Chrome add-ons, the plugin/extension developers must manually port their program. Thus the plugin availability is pretty limited right now, with some plugins acting poorly. For example, on my desktop the PDF viewer does not show any text when PDFs open in the browser. Occasionally, I've had pages not load at all when browsing. The ad shield can be disabled, and while that usually fixes the problem it didn't always work. A brief switch back to Chrome did the trick.

Despite its current flaws, Brave is looking to be an innovative addition to the browser wars. With its philosophy of prioritizing user security, time, and agency it's become my go-to daily browser on mobile and desktop. While I haven't uninstalled Chrome or Firefox quite yet, I'm enjoying the change and hoping for the best as the Brave team continues to innovate.