Brave Browser Review 06MAR2020 Update
Researcher: Brave is Most Private Browser
Late February, 2020, Douglas J. Leith, a professor at Trinity College at the University of Dublin, published this computer science paper stating that of all contemporary web browsers, Brave Browser is the most private browser. It sends the least amount of telemetry data about the browser’s habits to backend servers.
Protect Yourself and Your Family
It’s Time for a Reality Check on Privacy
Up until a few weeks ago, Google Chrome had been my primary browser for years. Knowing Chrome tracked me across the web, I’ve looked for a more private browser solution for some time. For many reasons, my hunt for something worthwhile had been an exercise in futility. However, I believe I’ve found the answer.
Welcome to the Brave Web Browser Review
Full disclosure… As a reader, you may think I’m blogger paid to promote Brave. I was not hired or paid by anyone to write this review. Brave is not a sponsor of this post in any fashion. And, there are no affiliate links anywhere in this post. My reasons for writing this article are that I am a big privacy advocate and I was very impressed by this browser.
Personal Privacy is Important
You say you have nothing to hide? Sure you do. There’s a lot you’d like to keep private. For example… your credit rating, your wife’s anniversary gift, and that business-related NDA you signed last year are all things you want to keep confidential.
So, how likely is it for personal information to fall into the wrong hands? Likely. The unfortunate truth is bad actors already have easy access to at least some of your data.
It’s Time to Wake Up on Privacy
Hundreds of companies are tracking your every move, both in the physical world and across the Internet. They track you through the apps and browsers you use. And if CES 2020 tells us anything, the brand names that we “trust” want to track us even more. That’s a problem. The data they collect can hurt you if it falls into the wrong hands, and it often does.
The business world cannot be completely trusted with our personal information. In 2019, a major data breach occurred at least once a week. There have been so many breaches in recent years, I’ve lost track on the number of free credit reporting subscriptions I’ve been gifted.
The best way to mitigate data leaks is to prevent corporations (as well as the government) from accessing superfluous information on us. It’s time to start taking back our privacy.
Read The New York Times’ report on the cost of losing your privacy.
The ‘Do Not Track’ Setting in your Browser does Nothing; it’s a Fraud
Most browsers have a ‘Do Not Track’ (DNT) setting. When turned on, this setting sends a signal to advertisers, analytic companies, app manufacturers, and other web service companies telling them to stop tracking your browsing activity. Unbeknownst to most web users, companies aren’t legally required to comply with the DNT setting. Honoring DNT is 100% voluntary; and as a result, most websites don’t respect the Do Not Track requests of users.
Your Digital History is for Sale
Corporations source data from browsers, business transactions, smart (IoT) devices, industrial equipment, videos, social media and other sources to create a digital dossier on you and everyone else. The collected data is shared and compared with other organizations in order to fill in any gaps of information they may have within the profile they’re building out on you. And let’s be clear, there isn’t just one dossier on you. There are hundreds, managed by a countless number of companies.
Google and other data collectors say the data they collect is anonymitized for the purpose of protecting individuals’ privacy. Statements like this is merely lip-service. The process of Data Re-anonymization, the practice of matching other available information in order to identify individuals, is not only easy, it’s a service data brokers offer their clients. For example, one product Experian (having a database no one can opt out of) offers its clients is an append service. This is a service that helps fill in missing data about consumers.
Sure, there may be some value in using granular data to market products and services. However, collecting, cataloging and productizing details of our lives is unethical. As DuckDuckGo has demonstrated, there is plenty of opportunity to succeed in the marketplace without adopting the practice of tracking customers’ most private moments.
Big tech is on the back foot with lead users, publishers, advertisers, regulators, and politicians — now is the time for we the people to insist on a better and fair no-tracking deal.
How Google Chrome Tracks You and Your Family
Google Chrome’s data collection does help with user experience. The collected data provides features such as automatic language settings and business location services. Google says they take precautions with the personal data they collect. However, Google, who employs some of the smartest people in the world (10% of their workforce holds a doctorate), is still unable to safeguard our private data. If the smartest people at Google are unable to protect our data, then who has the capability of doing so?
Partial List of Google’s data breaches
So, What’s Collected by Google Chrome? …the World’s Most Popular Browser
Our every movement is tracked and recorded. Google (as well as 100s of other companies) track everything you do on the web. Here’s an incomplete list of how you’re tracked:
- The tabs on your browser are cataloged; which tabs are open and which are out of view.
- Your mouse movements on the screen are all recorded; where you’ve stopped the pointer and what you’ve clicked on.
- As you surf the web a digital fingerprint of your PC or mobile device is recorded and associated with you.
- Your browsing history is stored indefinitely on a slew of servers.
- Everything you’ve ever purchased online is tracked and stored.
- Your real-time typing and writing patterns are cataloged. This includes not just the keywords you’ve searched for, but also all the actions you take (such as, backspacing, deletions, etc…) before clicking “enter” on a search.
Here’s what Google says they collect across all of their services, including Chrome…
Now is the Time to Switch Browsers
Beyond the issue of privacy, there are plenty of incentives to move away from Google’s Chrome browser. The workload tracking ads place on our devices is huge. Dozens of ad trackers on a single web page (corresponding with their ad servers) can overheat a laptop and make its cooling fan scream like a jet engine. These trackers prematurely wear out CPUs and expensive batteries in PCs and laptops.
Then I stumbled across Brave.
I would say now is the time for people to protect themselves with Brave and then enable Brave Rewards to support their favorite sites and channels by giving back their private ad revenue shares via tips, monthly recurring contributions, and auto-contributions.
Brendan Eich Describes the Current State and Problems with Internet Ads
Why Use the Brave browser?
The Challenge with Leaving Chrome
As a creator (designing and developing websites), the Google Chrome browser is industry gold standard. To walk away from the Chrome browser as my primary browser poses the risk of wasting a fat chunk of time. The top reason that prevented me from jumping to another browser is Chrome’s library of extensions. I use several Chrome extensions in my workflow, and my work would come to a halt if I couldn’t use them. Brave allows me to migrate my existing Chrome extensions over. That is huge. After finding that out, my interest in this browser was ignited.
Brave’s Big Time Selling Points
Ones that Pursuaded Me to Jump from Google Chrome
The makers of Brave designed it with privacy in mind for average user. You don’t have to spend time learning a single use skill-set in order to make your web surfing confidential. The most you’ll have to do is make a few clicks if you want the browser to be more secure than it already is out-of-the-box.
A quick Wikipedia look-up on Brave ignited my interest further once I read about who was behind the company. It’s one of the fathers of the modern Web, Brendan Eich.
Brian Bondy, Brave’s Co-founder and CTO
A former Firefox Platform Engineer at Mozilla and Linux software developer at Army Simulation Centre.
Yan Zhu, Brave’s Chief Information Security Officer
Formerly a staff technologist at Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and contributor to HTTPS Everywhere, SecureDrop, Privacy Badger for Firefox and Tor Browser projects.
Ben Livshits Ph.D., Brave’s Chief Scientist
Former security researcher at Microsoft.
The Brave Browser is Cross-platform
Brave can be installed and used on Windows, MacOS, iOS and Linux. I tested the browser on Windows 10 and iOS 13; and it works great on those devices.
I can use the same Chrome extensions I already Use? Awesome!
Brave allowed me to import the extensions as easily as bookmarks – may be even easier. How the Brave team do this? They adopted the open source Chromium framework. This is the same framework that powers Google Chrome but because Chromium is an open source project, Brave stripped out all the code that tracks individuals.
Brave Blocks Web Ads
Installing an ad blocking extension in Chrome is an option. However, these are third-party extensions, and they are in direct opposition to Google Chrome’s business model. Google has slowly altered its code to make Ad blocking software less effective.
On the other hand, Brave’s design is focused on blocking intrusive tracking ads – which addresses about 99% of all ads on the web right now. Brave says blocking tracking frees up CPU processing and RAM, extends laptop and smartphone battery life between charges, and speeds up web page load times.
A quick look at my RAM is usage in Windows’ Task Manager showed Brave uses half the RAM when visiting Yahoo’s news site (with a single tab open).
Memory usage by Google Chrome: 800.6 MB
Memory usage by Brave: 465.6 MB
Brave Loads Web Pages in a Fraction of the Time
I found that web page load times were noticeably faster with Brave. I didn’t even need to do a side-by-side comparison to notice the difference. Most web pages felt like they were loading at about as fast as opening a folder on my Windows desktop. Yes, that fast.
On the home screen, Brave presents a gauge with some interesting stats; the number of ads and trackers blocked, the number of pages automatically upgraded to HTTPS, and the amount time saved since using Brave. After using Brave for two weeks, the number of ads and trackers blocked on my laptop was a jaw-dropping 21,397. What I also found of interest is the number of minutes I saved waiting for web pages to load. It was a savings of 18 minutes over the course of two weeks. If I were to extend that kind of time-savings over a year, it would add up to one full work day.
How Accurate is Brave’s Estimate on ‘Time Saved’?
Brave Includes TOR Browsing
While blocking ads improves your privacy, it isn’t the same as browsing anonymously. Ad Blocking merely curtails tracking and speeds up web page load times by removing huge CPU overhead. In order to surf the web anonymously, a TOR (The Onion Router) system needs to be used. TOR is a free volunteer-organized overlay network on the Internet. It is designed to completely conceal a web user’s browsing activity. It conceals users’ real-time browsing, identification and location. And it makes network surveillance and traffic analysis nearly impossible. The only thing TOR does not do is hide the fact someone is using TOR.
Brave is the first browser to really make TOR accessible to the average user. Using TOR in Brave is as easy as initiating a ‘Private Tab’. Although TOR is most secure when used over a VPN, Brave’s TOR adds a tremendous layer of anonymity even without a VPN.
The Brave Browser Curtails Device Fingerprinting
As a result of the emerging popularity of ad blockers, many advertisers stopped using cookies and scripts to track users. Instead, they record snapshots of device configurations, called a ‘device fingerprint’, when people visit a website. Dozens of data points about a specific device are captured in a single fingerprint — device geolocation, device make and model, screen size, OS make and version, system font defaults, browser vendor and version, connected media devices, etc… Because we all customize our PCs, laptops and mobile devices as soon as we get our hands on them, advertisers can identify us by our device configuration with a 94% accuracy rate.
This research paper published by computer scientists at University of California, Riverside, reveals the fact that device fingerprinting can be very accurate.
Right now, Brave is the only browser that has a setting to squelch fingerprinting. Since the setting isn’t initiated by default, here’s how to turn on the stop device fingerprinting setting….
Open the Brave browser> go to Settings>scroll to “Shields”>toggle “Device recognition settings” to “Block all device recognition attempts”
Fixing the Web’s Broken Advertising Marketplace with Brave’s BAT System
We all know advertising on the web is broken. Web content publishers are barely making ends meet with online ads. Web users are fed up with an increasing bombardment of ads. And, advertisers are often billed for mismatched audiences and fraudulent clicks. It seems that Google is the only one who benefits as everyone else struggles.
Brave attempts to correct current advertising problems with their own Basic Attention Token (BAT) system of tokens. The BAT concept is an advertisement marketplace based on the Ethereum block. This is how Brave describes their BAT marketplace…
Stage 1: Brave Browser
Brave is a fast, open source, privacy-focused browser that blocks malvertisements, trackers, and contains a ledger system that anonymously captures user attention to accurately reward publishers.
Stage 2: Basic Attention Token
Attention Token can be used to obtain a variety of advertising and attention-based services on the BAT platform, as it is exchanged between publishers, advertisers, and users. The token’s utility is derived from — or denominated by — user attention. Attention is really just focused mental engagement — on an advertisement, in this case.
Stages 1 + 2 = A New Deal
The Brave browser knows where users spend their time, making it the perfect tool to calculate and reward publishers with BATs. This service creates a transparent and efficient Blockchain-based digital advertising market. Publishers receive more revenue because middlemen and fraud are reduced. Users opt-in to an inclusive and rewarding private ad experience. And advertisers get better data on their spending.
Although I have yet to try out Brave’s BAT system, I look forward to testing it in the coming weeks.