Ad-blocking Brave browser tests users-to-sites micro-payments

Newspaper association filed complaint with FTC in May that objected to ad-blocking, ad-replacement, and payment schemes like Brave's

Makers of the controversial Brave browser last week began testing a payment system that ultimately will be used to compensate websites when their revenue-generating ads are blocked, then replaced by Brave with its own.

Brendan Eich, CEO and president of Brave Software -- and for a short stint in 2014, CEO of Mozilla -- announced the Bitcoin-based payment system last week.

"We've heard from many people who say that they are tired of the current ad-tech ecosystem that clogs their web pages and data connections with annoying ads and tracking pixels and scripts, and that they would be happy to go ad-free if they could instead funnel their support directly to the websites they visit," wrote Eich in a post to a company blog.

Dubbed Brave Payments, the system is baked into the Brave browser and relies on Bitcoins, the digital currency. Users must fund their "wallets" with their own Bitcoin or through a partnership with Coinbase, deposit up to $5 a month in the wallet from a debit or credit card. Users also designate which sites are to be on their pay list.

Website publishers are paid monthly from each user's wallet, with the proceeds divvied up based on the number of pages visited and the time spent on each site, said Brave in an FAQ.

Brave takes a 5% cut of each wallet.

Eich implied that Brave Payments would also be used to dispense funds collected in the future from its own ads. "This is just the first step along a path that should offer users a revenue share for their attention, if they so choose, where that share will come back to the user's Brave wallet," Eich said.

Brave, which Eich introduced in January, based its business model on blocking web page ads and site-tracking techniques. Brave will scrub sites of most of their ads and all tracking, then replace those ads with its own. The latter will be targeted not at individuals but at the anonymous aggregate of the browser's user base. If enough people gravitate to the browser, Brave will share its ad revenue with users and content publishers, with approximately 55% going to the latter.

The ad-blocking got the attention of newspaper publishers, who in May filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), alleging that Brave and others violated federal law prohibiting deceptive practices and those barring unfair competition. The newspapers objected specifically to the idea that a micro-payment system -- like Brave Payments, although the complaint did not name it -- was a suitable replacement for existing ad revenue.

"These services claim that publishers are not harmed by the blocking of their advertising because of these supposed payment systems. But these claims are, in fact, entirely unsubstantiated, given that these ad-blockers destroy millions of dollars in advertising value (and support for free content) and that their owners have made no showing that any payments they may offer to publishers could offset the funds lost to blocked advertising," the complaint to the FTC read.

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