Interview

Jonathan Sampson Interviewed: Genius Mind behind the Development of Brave Browser

  • Salman Ahmed
  • 27th Sep, 2018

When it comes to internet browsers, there are very few options that provide a secure browsing experience. In the browser industry, there are many questionable practices that gather user data.

But thanks to the innovative use of Blockchain technology by the Brave browser, you can reclaim control of your privacy. The Brave browser has taken the world by storm and within a few months of its release, it passed the figure of over 3 million monthly active users.

Can this Open Source blockchain based initiative revolutionize our daily browsing with their decentralized mechanism?

To discuss, we interviewed Mr. Jonathan Sampson, Senior Developer and Relationship Specialist at Brave Inc.

So without wasting time, let’s dive into the mechanics behind Brave browser and how they are fixing the web by shattering the status quo of the industry.

Q1. Who is Jonathan Sampson?

Thank you for the very kind words. I am in developer relations at Brave, which requires talking to other developers in the community and help them better understand our product.

I got started in the 1990s when Netscape and Internet Explorer was combating for market share. It was 1994/95 when JavaScript first appeared in Netscape navigator and that’s when I started building websites.  Iy was my passion for online gaming that I can carry it with me all the way to where I am today.

And that’s probably pretty common with many of the best developers you’ll meet. They usually view this as more than just a job more than a profession. This is a passion for them and as a result, they don’t get tired. They, they keep pressing forward.

Q2. What is “Brave” browser and what was the idea behind?

So this is something that Brendan faced in early 2000. Brendan Eich or our co-founder with Mozilla during the time Internet Explorer had a massive market share and it was kind of crazy for someone to think that they would be able to take any of that from Internet explorer.

But history tells the story that Firefox restarted the browser wars and they did in fact change things radically. Then around 2008, Chrome appeared on the market and it was able to do the same thing.

So we’re not scared of the big players. Brave has a necessary spot in this industry with advertising and tracking getting way out of hand. If you look at the online advertising fraud in 2017, it was between $16 and $19 billion. Brave, I think has great potential to reform this industry and protects users in a way that they just haven’t been protected in the past.

Q3. How does anti ad tracking model works and how user activity on Brave can benefit them with BAT coin? 

One of the problems with current digital advertising is that ads aren’t really ads. They’re so much more than that today. They’re small programs that run in the browser and some of these ads, they do nothing more than show some pictures.

Some of them show some pixels and record that. Some of them start to fingerprint your device. They start to really delve into your browsing history and that type of stuff. And they collect information about you each time you go to a website that links to that ad.

And so the ad tracking has become this invasive surveillance industry. What Brave is saying is that you don’t deserve to be tracked everywhere you go online. You don’t deserve to have third parties websites that are not visiting, viewing your activity online.

If you navigate to the online privacy tips websites, for instance, you should only be communicating with the online privacy tips website, generally speaking, and you should not have advertisers watching you. And so that’s what Brave primary focus is at the base line. We turn off ads and tracking and we tried to establish a quieter, private, secure connections for the end user.

Q4. What is decentralized advertisement exchange idea all about?

The way in which the web works today is, it’s funded by ads primarily. And so one thing that Brave realized early on is that we’re going to be turning off ads because ads have become the primary vehicle for malware and phishing scams and many just very horrible things. The ad industry has been co-optive by many bad guys and adversaries, so ads are still a great way to fund the web. But the old model has been.

Brave browser

The way ads presently work on the web is that you have many different third party scripts that monitor your activity. They follow you around, they see what you searched for, they see what you buy, they see where you go and perhaps even how long you stay on certain sites and all of that information, that private information is just kind of evaporating out into these third parties.

And what Brave sees is that we should turn that model upside down so that your data and your privacy stays with you and on your machine. Instead of having all of this information just, you know, going out to everybody else, users should opt into ads and when they opt into ads, the ad matching what happened on their devices as opposed to on ad networks servers and even beyond this Brave things that your attention is a limited commodity.

It’s something that you don’t have an infinite amount of. And so you should get paid for it whenever you give it to somebody. Our current model is to pay 70 percent of to the ad slot user. So if you’re viewing user private ads, which exists today in limited trials, then you would get 70 percent of the revenue.

And in the future, if it’s a publisher ad on a website or something, then the user of the site, we get 70 percent. And the individual who viewed the ad would get 15 percent. SO brave things that we can do the matching better on your device keeps you more private, it keeps you secure and also pays you for your attention.

Q5. How publishing something through your browser will reward companies and users in terms of BAT coins?

Simply, if you have a website that is registered with the Brave publisher program, https://brave.com/creators/, that means that users who have funded their wallets. I couldn’t go to your domain as long as they’re spending time on your website, they will be allocating BAT coins to you as a publisher and then every few days or so we, anonymously send their BAT to you. This way, the publisher and you’re able to make money effectively from the attention that people have spent on your domain or on your properties.

Q6. How can Users buy/ Invest in BAT via Etherium?

The basic attention token (BAT) is an Erc. 20 standard token, which means it’s a type of Ethereum token and you can purchase them from various online exchanges. We partnered with uphold.com and that’s actually where we encourage people to buy a basic attention token (BAT) if they want to, and also where we have publishers received their basic attention token as well.

Q7. How is BAT (Basic Attention Tokens) different from other coins available in the market? And why people should invest in them as compared to other tokens available in the market?

One thing that distinguishes BAT from things like Bitcoin, Ethereum, or Litecoin, all these other tokens or coins in the market is that BAT is a utility token. It is not a security, it’s not an investment option or anything like that. BAT is just a unit of account between advertisers, publishers and users. And so it’s not a digital security, the digital currency or a commodity.

Q8. What Kind of benefit will users get while using the Brave browser? Is there anything which benefit them through BAT tokens?

One thing that we do is whenever you open up the Brave browser and have what’s called the dashboard, this is where we show you are Brave statistics. And so this is the number of ads blocked.

The number of trackers blocked, the number of connections that were made to secure a so people couldn’t spy on you effectively. And then the total of minutes saved. And as you use Brave, you’ll actually find that that numbers, grows very quickly.

So right now, if I were to open up my dashboard on my browser, I have 71,583 trackers blocked and 554,792 ads blocked and I have a total of 8.7 hours saved. And so users just by running Brave, making no additional modifications that they start to save immense amounts of time.

One thing that we’ve realized as well is that with mobile users who don’t have fixed data plans, they might even save as much as $23 a month by not loading those ads and trackers.

Brave browser

According to a report published in New York Times in 2017, states that up to 50 percent of the data you load on your cell phones could be ads and trackers and so we’re paying to be tracked in that regard and so Brave users don’t have to worry about that as one of the benefits to using BAT attention token.

You can more effortlessly support the content creators that you enjoy and so BAT right now can go to twitch streamers if you like to watch online gaming, it can go to YouTuber’s, it can go to blogs and any website that is registered with the, the publishers portal, and that’s going to be expanding soon in the future as well.

Even Reddit authors, people who’ve posted great things on Reddit or even twitter users will be able to get paid for their contributions to the web. And the basic attention token really makes that a frictionless process.

Q9. While Tech firms are running after user data, how transparency and anti-monitoring became your company’s priority?

We saw even early on Brendan, our CEO talks often about the early days of Netscape, the introduction to image elements on web pages and cookies. And this accidentally turned into a means by which people can be tracked all across the web.

And then of course when JavaScript came in 94 and 95, these efforts were super-sized and people had a really powerful scripting language to help them monitor users across the web. So this was all an accidental development.

For Brave, Brendan has been watching this now for 23 years or so. And as somehow is tracking and the monitoring has become out of hand. And so you see there’s kind of a duopoly today between Facebook and Google and they pretty much handled the vast majority of online advertisements and subsequently advertising based tracking and monitoring.

But we saw this as low with other social buttons on the Web, so if you’ve ever seen a website that has a tweet this or a share this button, oftentimes those are tied to third parties and those would yield some degree of tracking as well.

And so Brave cuts all of that off as you browse the web and we’re trying to make it back to just a one to one communication between the user and the website they’re visiting and basically cut out all the third parties that may be doing them harm or wishing to do them harm in the process.

Q10 Why Browser? Are other options available in the market to do with crypto tokens? Is there any specific reason behind it?

So a lot of users wonder why a browser? What makes Brave different from some of the popular ad blocking services out there like Ad block, Ad block Plus is that we’re not limited to the API or to the functionality that the hosts browser given an extension.

So in some cases, I’ll give you an example. In 2017 there was a problem with online ads, auto playing media, and so you go to a website and you start to hear some noise being played and you don’t have any idea where it’s coming from and turns out it’s coming from the bottom of the page, from a small square ad down there.

Well, one of the things we wanted to do was modify the source engine itself of the browsers so that we could create a prompt for the user. Just say, do you want to allow auto play media because we are a browser not extension so we were able to make this change effortlessly.

And so the other good thing is that whenever we’re able to bake this logic into the browser, we can be a lot faster than extensions that have to float on top of the browser. And so this gives us a high degree of autonomy. It gives us performance wins and overall just a better experience for the end users.

Q11. How is Brave planning to beat Huge Extension library of Google Chrome as people are not willing to leave those extensions as part of their overall experience?

This was one of the problems we faced early on is that you don’t want to replicate all of the work of all developers everywhere who have built an amazing extension ecosystem. And so with Brave, we decided to take some of the topics, extensions that people use and making them available within the browser.

So we support a last task, one password, dash lane, and many top password managers. We also support integrated the PDF JS, which is a way to view PDF on the web without having to download them and open them in Adobe reader or something else.

And so we’ve, we’ve added a few extensions with Brave, but we’re actually going to be adding hundreds, hundreds more in the very near future with our Chromium fork. So we’re moving from our custom engine called Muan over to the Chromium engine, which is what powers the chrome browser.

And when we make this transition, we’ll be able to support basically all of chromes extensions. Now, one thing we’re going to continue to do though is manage our own chrome extension library. And this is just to protect users from some of the malicious things that have happened with extensions in chrome web store.

We’ve seen some extensions that changed owners and the new owner would be malicious with it and or you have the extension loaded into the store that impersonates other extensions. And sometimes they will have hundreds of thousands of downloads and even most recently there’s an extension called Metamask, which is also supported in Brave.

But Metamask was removed from the chrome web store and they left behind a set metrics and foster extensions that weren’t the reality of mass and this was pretty unbelievable for about six hours if someone went to the chrome web store to the Google play store to download Metamask so they will probably get a malicious version instead of the real version. And so by hosting their own web store will be able to protect users from those types of events.

Q12. Are there any current programs that are lined up for the future that Brave and BAT going to do for spreading awareness?

Yes, we do have a couple of initiatives that we think are helping out considerably. And so for instance, for anyone on the web right now that has a website, a blog or YouTube channel or a twitch channel, they can go to https://brave.com/refer, and they can generate a, a unique link for themselves.

And if they share that link with people, they get $5 for every person who joins, who downloads the browser, enjoys the Brave community. So we’ve already seen quite a few people take advantage of this and it’s a good way to incentivize people to get the word out, to share the message about safer, more secure online browsing and that we’re going to continue to do things like that in the future.

We give out regular back grants as well. So if anyone has the Brave browser installed and Brave payments enabled, then they will know this, I think monthly or roughly every month they’ll get about $5 in free basic attention tokens (BAT) that they can then in turn give to their favorite websites. And so a lot of this is really getting a decent amount of publicity and helping the message to get out about what Brave is and what we’re about.

Q13. Tell us about the challenges and barriers that Brave has come across in this mission and how does your team members overcome these challenges?

So one of the first challenges is to make sure that we don’t die. Started up the new browser. You want to make sure you stay alive. And so one of the first things that we did to ensure that users of the Brave browser would not be a locked out of websites was we identify as chrome.

And so as they are using Brave browsers, the websites they are looking at, think that they’re using chrome and so they wouldn’t dare block that user from accessing your site, otherwise they could block, you know, their largest demographic of chrome users.

We continue to face that. One of the other issues that we faced, two in particular around blockchain technologies, it trying to make the blockchain more familiar and comfortable for people to use. And so right now it’s a very esoteric, area.

It’s kind of confusing for an average user. Even some very smart users can find some aspects of the blockchain technology to be a little confusing. And so with Brave payments, we’re constantly trying to make that easier to use. We’re trying to face the blockchain aspect of it to kind of hide that aspect.

You’re just feels like they’re using traditional support models that they’re already familiar with and making monthly contributions to websites and, you know, they don’t have to worry about those more complicated details that we handle those behind the scenes. And so this is just a couple of issues that we faced and we continued, to work on those.

Q14. Where would you like to see Brave and the Cyber Security situation to be in the next ten years?

I think what we’re doing right now is we are really opening the eyes of other browser vendors in the industry and we’re starting to change the tone of the conversation around use your autonomy and privacy and these principles.

And so I think in the next 10 years of Brave is going to continue to be a leader and this area, it’s going to continue to influence our peers in the browser vendor markets we already see, you know, we launched a, a crypto wallet and integrated in 2016 with bitcoin and we see that other browser vendors are now starting to talk about building in crypto wallets as well and, obviously know with the ads and tracker blocking that we do out of the box.

By default, we now see that other major browser vendors are starting to advertise those as optional enhancements as well. Brave doesn’t think those should be enhancements. We think those should be on by default. But we’re starting to see others in the industry. Leaders in the industry tried to adopt some of the Brave rhetoric and some of the Brave talking points because these are becoming more and more popular, especially in light of GDPR.

Q15. Do you think the implementation of GDPR across Europe is an excellent initiative, which enables organizations to become more transparent? OR is GDPR hurdling the blockchain initiative…

Brave is a fairly decentralized company. We have engineers in Florida, in Canada, in San Francisco, the main offices in San Francisco, but we actually do, really like what’s happening with the general state of privacy online and GDPR is one of those developments. In fact, you even see that this idea of users to give consent to be tracked online is I think more closely aligned with where we are than with traditional models.

We still don’t like the idea of tracking users because many users are just going to press okay on that little GDPR banner and they’re not going to realize the full impact of what’s happening. We think it’s a step in the right direction, but it’s still a system that can be greatly improved upon him.

And we’re going to continue to do that. But you see some examples where GDPR has demonstrated a proven Brave approach is very effective. One of the examples was USA Today for all of their European demographics and European visitors, they turned off ads and trackers and they reduced their website size by more than tenfold, I believe.

And so, uh, we continue to see examples of this where when you cut off ads and tractors, the experience of the web becomes faster, more efficient, and less expensive. And ultimately everyone wins in the end with the model that Brave is proposing.

Q16. Due you think IOT is failing due to centralized data mechanism and bringing blockchain can change it?

There are a lot of problems with IOT, you know, some people call it the, the Internet of trash and other names for it. I love IOT devices. I have several of my own, but you have to be very careful on how you use them.

Unfortunately, they don’t receive patches as often as they really are. And so you do wind up with some outdated gateways to your personal network at home or the office. Generally, you know, many of those concerns can be taken care of by running a second network, but it’s still a very concerning industry right now and one that I hope is able to kind of improve itself in the future.

How the blockchain is going to, to help in that regard. I’m not 100 percent positive, but we’ve seen many people finding very creative applications for it in their own industries and I think that will benefits all of us.

We’re going to continue to see people do things, from what Brave is doing with a better digital advertising model all the way to a what crypto kitties are doing. Are they building inbreeding digital cats online? So if IOT can leverage that power in some positive way, then that will be wonderful.

Q17. How would you define “Online Privacy”?

I liked the way online privacy was in the early nineties when you just went online, you typed in a website address, you read their content, you got off and nobody has collected anything in the process. Maybe you know, with the exception of an IP log or something on the server that you access. But today it’s a very different story.

It’s almost like a Paris Hilton or somebody and every time we go online there’s a thousand people looking at us, taking pictures, recording everything we say and do. And that’s just, that’s not good. And so Brave gets us more closely to that older model where it’s just you, you are the master of your data.

You determine who knows what about you. And so I think that’s the area that we want to get back to where you have true privacy online and not just this theater of privacy or the impression of privacy.

Q18. Do you think consumers at times compromise privacy with convenience in their online activity?

You do have to be very careful with what you do online. Obviously social media yields many benefits. It’s the means by which I stay in touch with extended family that lives far away from me.

You can share pictures of your kids with them, but at the same time, I understand how Facebook is operating on the web and I see things, for instance, like Facebook messenger, is aiming to get access to banking details, in the future.

And so you have to be very careful and vigilant against these types of things and understand that these, websites are not just tracking your activity when you’re browsing them. They’re tracking your activity when you’re visiting other places on the web as well, so if we go back to the example of those social media buttons on websites, if they have a shared this on Facebook link will, generally speaking, they’re able to tell even before you click that button that you visited this page.

They know what you’re looking at. They can build up these profiles about you even if you’re not on the social media science itself, and this was even something that was brought up with Mark Zuckerberg in question was on the topic of shadow profiles.

People who aren’t even members of Facebook profiles compiled against their online activity and stored on the Facebook servers for the day in which that can be converted to a member profile. And so there’s. There’s information collection going all across the web and so Brave again says, listen, if you’re a third party, if I’m going to the online privacy tips website, I don’t want Facebook tracking me.

So Brave will preemptively terminate this connections to Facebook and preemptively terminate this connections to Google and keep that activity just between you and the website you’re visiting. And we think that’s a much better model. And so, you know, always be careful with it, you know, this is a personal decision for people. What Brave is going to try and help out where and when we can.

Q19. Don’t you think that recent transparency issues with social media (Cambridge Analytica) giants has lately started a movement? People are now asking questions and their behavior is changing towards online privacy?

Absolutely. Users are becoming very sophisticated and even the users who don’t spend a lot of time thinking about this, they still are becoming a little more sensitive to the way in which the web is working. They start to notice, little things across their browsing experience.

For instance, if they’ve purchased something at a brick and mortar store with their credit card and then they’d go on Amazon and they see advertisements for that, they start to pick up on the way in which they’re real world life is bleeding over into their digital experience.

And so users are starting to understand just how far some of these trackers and advertisers are reaching in their life and they’re making decisions to block this. We see that there are over. I mean there were several hundreds of millions of people who install ad blockers in their browsers, whether that’s in Edge, Firefox or Chrome.

There are many individuals, actually about 3.25 million monthly active users right now with Brave who have downloaded a browser, which takes them even further. And so we’re seeing just your average users become very sophisticated in this area and very much sensitive to what’s happening to the industry.

Q20. Any suggestion and tips you would like to give to our readers to enhance their online security?

Absolutely. Yeah. The first step to online security is become an expert in it. Dedicate your life to studying this. I’m just playing. J That’s actually really hard to do and most people cannot do. So the next best thing is to get behind those who are experts who have dedicated their lives.

And this is kind of like, all of us with our physicians or doctors. I know, it’d be great if I could go to med school and be my own doctor, but I don’t have that time, so I have to put my faith in someone who has done that. And so what I would say is, get behind some solid software, download the Brave browser, and that will put you way above the vast majority of people in terms of online security.

The Brave browser protects you from malicious ads in tractors from phishing scams and more. And, then also just be very careful with the links you click, the websites you visit your browser will account a great deal of work to protect you from some bad guys on the web. Lastly, always be careful, online.

Salman Ahmed's Biography
Salman Ahmed Siddiqui is a passionate writer who loves to write about online privacy, crypto economy and trending technological developments. He loves to provide effective tips and guideline related to rising cyber challenges. When he is not writing, Salman watches Manchester United play and demonstrates his love for football with his mad FIFA skills.

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