Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Publishers React to the Brave Browser’s Ad Manipulation

Lisa Vaas, explains on Sophos’ blog the business model used by the new Brave browser:

Brave, on the other hand, was launched with a business model that involves blocking some “bad ads” and replacing them with ads from advertisers that pay to be on Brave’s own advertising network of “clean ads” that meet its standards of not slowing down page load times or tracking users. […]

The fees Brave Software takes in from advertisers will go into one pot. The publishers get the lion’s share – 55% – weighted by how many ad impressions are served on their sites.

What’s left over gets divvied up between Brave, its ad-matching partners, and the users, with each getting 15%.

Understandably, publishers are not pleased with this arrangement. Shannon Bond, Financial Times:

“[Brave’s] argument is, ‘I will take $10 out of your wallet and give you $5, and aren’t you happy about that?’ ” said David Chavern, president of the Newspaper Association of America, a non-profit trade group representing 2,000 newspapers in the US and Canada.

Seventeen NAA members sent Mr Eich and Brave a cease and desist notice on Thursday.

For their part, Brave believes the publishers don’t fully understand the business model:

Brave is not, as the NAA asserts, “replac[ing] publishers’ ads on the publishers’ own websites and mobile applications with Brave’s own advertising.” We do not tamper with any first-party publisher content, including native ads that do not use third-party tracking.

[…]

News industry leaders rightly decry the violation of privacy inherent in some NSA or FBI tactics, yet their own complicity in tracking individuals to even more invasive degrees is not addressed.

A shorter version of this response is, in a nut, “stop relying upon third-party services to serve you tracking ads that are potentially loaded with malware; start selling your own ad inventory.”

The post kind of devolves near the end, though:

Browsers do not just play back recorded pixels from the publishers’ sites. Browsers are rather the end-user agent that mediates and combines all the pieces of content, including third-party ads and first-party publisher news stories. Web content is published as HTML markup documents with the express intent of not specifying how that content is actually presented to the browser user. Browsers are free to ignore, rearrange, mash-up and otherwise make use of any content from any source.

While technically true, Brave treads awfully close to an uncomfortable line previously drawn by content framing and JavaScript injection. Imagine if Brave interpreted and rearranged what it was presented with in a different way, perhaps by replacing all instances of the word brave with its own logo, or all images on the page with pictures of William Howard Taft. These reinterpretations would not be as user-friendly as the ad swapping Brave currently engages in, but what practical differences are there? I think these examples are comparable, and we wouldn’t tolerate that kind of browser.