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Should you switch to the Brave Web Browser?
“You fought in the Browsers Wars?” asked Microsoft Edge. “Yes. I was once a Web Browser, the same as your father, ” said Internet Explorer 6. OK, that doesn’t quite have the same dynamic as Luke’s and Obi Wan’s conversation in a New Hope. However, the browser wars were a thing at one point. I also (wrongly) thought they were over, except for a few skirmishes. But once in a while someone, somewhere says to themselves, “What we need is another web browser.” At that point I would normally groan and move on. However, things are a little different with the Brave browser.
The Brave browser uses Blink, so it isn’t special in that regard. What makes it special is its emphasis on making privacy and safety front and center. Let’s take a look at what this browser brings to the table in this Brave browser review.
The problem is Ad Tracking
Most browsers do a good job of keeping you secure while browser. There is universal support for secure HTTP connections, support for incognito tabs (useful when you are using a public computer and not your own), and various levels of sandboxing support that stops one tab stealing data from another. However, one area where privacy has been slowly eroded is advertising.
To be effective advertising needs to be targeted. It is pointless showing me ads about rock climbing equipment or baby strollers, but show me an advert for the latest bit of tech and maybe, just maybe I will click. To send the right ads to the right people advertisers build up virtual profiles about your web browsing activities and start to hone in on your likes and dislikes. That in itself sounds harmless enough, even useful. However, the tracking techniques that advertisers use are getting more and more invasive.
Online advertising is big money. Google has an annual revenue measured in the billions of dollars, $209 billion for 2021. Most of that money comes from advertising. Sure, it sells apps and movies, offers cloud services, and sells Pixel smartphones and Google Home smart speakers. But most of the money comes from advertising. That is a lot of dollars invested in selling ads based predominantly on a model where money changes hands if, and only if, an advert is clicked.
As with most business ventures, the lines between ethical behavior and the relentless pursuit of profit seem to blur the bigger the sums of money. For a long time the advertisers were winning. But consumers have started to rebel. While initiatives like “Do Not Track” and the EU’s GDPR have attempted to clip the wings of advertisers, they have generally been badly conceived and badly implemented. For most people, the GDPR just means they have to click an “I accept your cookies” message every time they visit a new website.
The most drastic option available to users is to completely block data-collecting trackers, which in turn, means blocking most adverts.
Take back control with Brave browser
Like most browsers, Brave has a private window option. When using a private window, Brave doesn’t keep any data about your browsing. The sites you visited won’t show up in the history, while cookies, form data, and site data vanish when you close the window. But Brave goes one step further, it offers a private window with Tor connectivity.
With Tor connectivity, there are two extra benefits. First, your IP address is hidden from the sites you visit (due to the nature of Tor). Second, the sites you visit are hidden from passive observers who are monitoring the network. Tor is the popular name (and acronym) for The Onion Routing protocol. It was developed by the United States Naval Research Laboratory, and works by routing your network traffic through several Tor nodes, ensuring that your computer never communicates with the server directly.
The downside of Tor is that it may slow down browsing, or break some websites.
But won’t that harm publishers who rely on advert income?
The simple answer is yes, and for me, that is a huge downside. Advertising income is essential for hobbyists who need to fund their websites or YouTube channels, and independent websites free of corporate shackles – like Android Authority. Until now I haven’t used an ad blocker because I know that good content isn’t free. Everyone needs to eat. But Brave has a surprising answer to this problem – Brave Rewards.
Rather than tempting you to click on adverts, Brave anonymously calculates the amount of attention you give the sites you visit. Once a month, the Brave Rewards program will compensate the sites you’ve visited. You can also tip creators directly and remove any sites you don’t want to support.
Brave has a surprising alternative to traditional advertising: Brave Rewards.
The twist is that the currency behind Brave Rewards isn’t the US dollar, or the Euro, or even the Chinese Yuan, but a cryptocurrency called BAT (Basic Attention Token), which itself uses the Ethereum blockchain. The idea is that blockchain digital advertising can offer a decentralized, transparent digital ad exchange.
Stage one in replacing the traditional advertising model is to bring the Brave browser to the mainstream along with its built-in use of BAT. Stage two is for users, publishers, and advertisers to use BAT as the means of funding advertising and attention-based services. As the name implies, the value of the token is derived from — or denominated by — user attention, the one commodity you have to spend while using the web.
BATs, Uphold, and tips
Like all crypto-currencies, you need to keep your tokens in a wallet. Brave includes an anonymous wallet that is stored locally on your computer or mobile device. You can also use an online service (more about that in a moment).
You can earn tokens by viewing Brave Ads. Ads presented are based on your interests, as inferred from your browsing behavior. However this time, no personal data or browsing history ever leaves your browser. When you click on an ad you earn a part of a BAT.
When you see something you like online, you can support the content’s creator by sending a tip, as a thank you. Verified creators get paid their tips during the first week of each calendar month. You can also set a monthly recurring contribution.
If you want to turn traditional currency into BATs you can fund your wallet using Uphold.com. Uphold is a digital money platform with over 1 million users, covering over 50 currencies and four commodities. I am skeptical of “digital money platforms” in general, as buying the coins/tokens is easy, however converting them back into real cash has been – in my experience – a challenge.
To test Uphold, I linked my Brave wallet to an Uphold account. I went through the verification process, which included identity checks etc, and then funded my wallet to the grand sum of £10. This was then turned into 71.785044215959870653 BAT. You need to wait one day before you can withdraw the money. After 24 hours, I paid my 71.785044215959870653 BAT into a Euro account. In less than four hours the money was in my account! So it seems that real-world to crypto to real-world exchanges work!
I lost about €1 in the process. Uphold does promise 0% trading commissions, 0% fees on credit & debit card deposits and 0% bank and crypto withdrawal fees, but I guess I lost out in the exchange rates!
Uphold is going to release a debit card linked with your account. You’ll get a physical chip-and-PIN card and a virtual card to buy stuff online. It is a Mastercard, which means it will be accepted at millions of merchants and ATMs across the world. I joined the waiting list for a card in April 2020, I was number 28,492 in the queue. Now in May 2022, I am number 105. I hope the wait is worth it! Apparently, I can skip the line by referring friends.
But Chrome is a memory hog!
Brave combines better privacy and safety with a browsing experience that's faster Chrome — despite being Chromium-based.
Another advantage of Brave’s Chromium roots is that you get access to the Chrome Web Store. When you click on “extensions” you get taken directly to Google’s web store, not even a copy or cheap replica, but Google’s actual store. That means that migrating to Brave browser is very simple for Chrome or Edge users. You can also import your bookmarks from Edge, Chrome, Firefox or a HTML file. I didn’t spot a way to import saved passwords (which I guess is a good thing), but if you are using a password manager like LastPass or Dashlane then that won’t matter.
One feature missing in early versions of Brave was Sync. But those days are gone and you can now sync the data between all your devices using Brave. You can opt to Sync everything, or specific things like bookmarks, extensions, history, and passwords.
Will you switch?
Brave browser has quickly become part of my normal workflow. I have been using it for some sites/tasks every day and the reasons for not migrating to it fully are, well, non-existent. Brave is available for Windows, macOS, Linux (Debian 9+, Ubuntu 16.04+, and Mint 18+), iOS, and Android. I have tested it on all 5 and the experience is as consistent as any other browser across such a diverse set of platforms. Sadly there is no support for Windows on Snapdragon, or for boards like the Raspberry Pi. However, there is a version for the new Macs using the Apple Silicon.
That’s it for this Brave browser review. If you want to give Brave a try, and I recommend that you do, then use the link below.