Brave is the world’s first privacy-driven digital-advertising platform. A browser with a conscience, you could even call it “woke.”
In today’s lucrative surveillance economy where companies watch everything we say and do and turn that knowledge into profit, Brave’s innovative multi-platform puts the largely unregulated and murky internet world under a microscope.
Brave blocks invasive ads, trackers and malware from your computer and will not store or sell your data to unknown third parties. Add in the ability to be rewarded for watching ads and ‘tip’ content you enjoy reading on the web, it is a noble battle against a pervasive online data economy that even George Orwell did not anticipate.
Brave has experienced exponential growth in the last year alone, with 11.2 million monthly active users in January 2020, up from 5.5 million the year before.
Close to 390,000 publishers have already registered to receive Brave Rewards, including Wikipedia, WikiHow and DuckDuckGo, as well as reputable news organisations like The Guardian and The Washington Post. Brave also supports content creators on platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Reddit and Vimeo. There is a diverse range of big advertisers, too, like Amazon, Pizza Hut, Intel and Vice, and the list keeps growing.
There are currently more than 100 employees worldwide, with roughly 60% working remotely; and in mid-2017 Brave Software International SEZC was set up in Grand Cayman through Cayman Enterprise City’s Tech City.
In mid-2018 Ryan Watson, a self-taught IT professional who started his career at the tender age of 17, became the custodian of the Cayman operation, along with Brave’s principal engineer, Marshall Rose. Together they have been growing the global tech team and have just hired their first Caymanian employee.
Watson, who hails from West Sussex, England, jumped at the chance to move to Cayman after Eich offered him the position of director of IT and infrastructure over a dinner meeting. Watson was working remotely for Brave in Vancouver, Canada, at the time, and was at Mozilla for seven years prior to that, holding various and progressively higher IT roles.
He is also on the board of directors for the Blockchain Association of the Cayman Islands and Digital Cayman; and gives local tech talks, including at the STEM CARIB 2019 Conference, held at the University College of the Cayman Islands in the fall, and as a guest on Radio Cayman.
He is passionate about the company’s crusade not to track users. “It’s a minefield out there, and more privacy-pro companies like Brave are needed to stand up against privacy-invading ad fraud and companies that engage in it. The industry is still pretty much going unchecked,” Watson says.
“The juggernaut is the advertising industry – they are our biggest competitors, hence the name Brave. We are actively trying to kill the surveillance economy, and ad fraud, which was worth over $20 billion in 2019 alone. That’s how most people make their money, through advertising.”
Brave has its own utility token called “Basic Attention Token”. The BAT logo is in the form of a triangle and Watson explains that this is because three entities are in the paradigm: user, advertiser and publisher – with the three-way cycle going either way.
The BAT can be used to reward content creators and users can either automatically distribute contributions based on how much time is spent on sites or they can choose to tip sites directly, and even offer a fixed monthly tip amount.
Users’ funds are made available to site owners through an anonymous blockchain-based ledger system so they cannot be identified based on the sites they visit and support.
“We try to know as little as possible about people who are using Brave. If a user opts in to see ads (which is off by default), our users are tracked by their browser on their machine and then anonymously matched with interesting and engaging ads that pay them 70% of the revenue via tokens,” Watson says.
He further explains that users can also add their own tokens rather than use the reward system and tip those sites and those content creators. “Users can use that to either tip YouTubers, Twitter accounts or websites, and you will see a little checkmark in the URL if these places are accepting tokens.
“We have seen massive growth in the signing up of content creators. For example, Wikipedia, one of the biggest websites in the world, now takes tips via the Brave route,” he adds.
With one click you can switch from a browser like Chrome or Firefox and your device (PC, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android) will then use machine learning to study your interests.
“We try to mimic a lot of Chrome’s features because people like to use their extensions and like how it looks, so we support all of their extensions. To move to Brave from Chrome is simply a one-click install. We try to make it easy,” says Watson, adding that the Brave browser is three to six times faster than other browsers, while using half the battery power.
“It’s free, too. If you don’t like it, you can just remove it.”
Future of tech
With Watson’s help, Brave has been taking the initiative to encourage students in Cayman to enter the tech sector upon graduation.
“This last year we have done so much and with organisations like Cayman Code Academy and Code Cayman. I’m seeing kids getting more enthused. I’m also trying to get out to more schools to talk about what it’s like to work in a tech company. That is pretty encouraging to see. We are getting there.”
Watson says, “Last summer we had 20 students from the International College of the Cayman Islands visit the Brave office in San Francisco to learn more about what it’s like to work for a tech company, and tried to inspire them into this career path.” Brave hired three local interns, one of which is now a full-time employee working in the IT and user support team.
Watson does feel that there needs to be more government focus in the Cayman technology sector. “Traditionally it has been very laser-focussed on finance, law and business, but it would be great to have more government support on some of the initiatives.”
He adds, “It does feel great to be here at the forefront of this cutting-edge industry, and I would like to be in Cayman’s developing tech hub for as long as I can – hopefully forever.”
As for the future of tech on a global scale, Watson predicts the biggest innovations will be in biotech, like gene-editing, lab-grown meat and stem cells. He also sees a huge boom in self-driving vehicles.
“There might be another revolution much like the industrial revolution … we are currently at Level 2 with self-driving technology, and it goes all the way to Level 5, which we are a few years away from. It will change the way we do business for sure and impact people in a way we were not anticipating.”
As for Brave, Watson says the company will continue to innovate and help users with their privacy by making sure the platform is feature-rich and nimble, and reacts to their needs.