Publishers Put Brave Ad-Blocking Browser on Notice

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A group of newspaper publishers last week sent what amounted to a cease-and-desist letter to Brave Software, which offers the HTTPS Brave browser with built-in ad blocking and tracking protection.

Brave has offered to let publishers make money off blocked ads by partnering with them "for a lower fee than they pay their third-party data-tracking partners," CEO Brendan Eich said. The publishers "can use our private analytics and anonymous confirmations instead."

The publishers can get up to 70 percent of the revenue from ads published jointly with Brave, as opposed to the 45 percent they normally would get.

They would get 55 percent straight off, and customers, who get 15 percent, can decide to donate that to the publishers, Brave said. Another 15 percent would go to Brave's supply-side platform partner, and Brave would get the remaining 15 percent.

"Your plan to use our content to sell your advertising is indistinguishable from a plan to steal our content to publish on your own website." The publishers refused to accept "any compensation or consideration Brave plans to offer," the letter said.

"You are hereby notified that Brave's plan to replace our clients' paid advertising content with its own advertising violates the law, and the undersigned publishers intend to fully enforce their rights."

Advance Local, Digital First Media, Dow Jones, BH Media Group, Gannett, Gatehouse Media and McClatchy were among the 17 publishers that sent the letter.

"We're seeing more and more users express their frustration at the level of privacy invasion and the tracking that the sites are now subjecting them to," Eich told the E-Commerce Times. Users "are tired of being monetized and treated like products, or even targeted by malvertisements, and are looking for a new approach to content consumption on the Web."

An AdReaction study conducted last year found that between 40 and 48 percent of digital audiences ages 16 to 45 have a negative view of targeting, Joline McGoldrick, VP of insights at Millward Brown Digital, told the E-Commerce Times earlier this year.

"I think that ad blocking is getting to be a bigger and bigger problem for publishers, particularly when it comes to Web browsers," commented Mike Goodman, a research director at Strategy Analytics.

However, "saying, 'We're going to strip out your ads so you get nothing and then we'll insert our own ads and give you a share of the revenue' is called blackmail," he told the E-Commerce Times. "If you try to get their permission to do so and craft a business model that makes publishers want to sign up, that's another thing."

"What Brave intends to do is technically theft, but the laws, as they currently exist, don't clearly make that same determination, and Google has clearly been getting away with very similar behavior," observed Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

"However, Brave is nowhere near Google's class of company, and the end result could be case law that would be used against Google," he told the E-Commerce Times. "Google might actually move against Brave to prevent that from happening."

The publishers have the deep pockets and "should be easily able to show harm," Enderle said, "but their best bet long term is to get the laws surrounding copyright infringement to specifically call behavior like this illegal."

On the other hand, if Brave wins, "I would expect the publishing industry to pivot sharply to paywalls as a survival tactic, but that will likely speed the demise of the marginal players," he added.

Brave has "publicized the revenue-share model from the get-go," Eich said, but the NAA "never reached out to us; we found out about their letter the same morning they sent it to all the publications. We would be happy to sit down with them to discuss the Brave solution."

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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