You deserve a better Internet.
That’s the slogan of the Brave browser. It has positioned itself as the bastion of what the web should look like—a place where users aren’t exploited for financial gain.
Promising to cut users in on the ad revenues their online activities generate, Brave has grabbed headlines by holding itself to a higher standard than the likes of Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.
But now, a bombshell has emerged.
A Brave retreat
Brave has been automatically adding affiliate links to crypto websites regularly visited by its users—and pocketing profits as a result.
The controversy was uncovered by Yannick Eckl on his @cryptonator1337 Twitter account on June 6, who wrote: “So when you are using the @brave browser and type in “binance[.]us” you end up getting redirected to “binance[.]us/en?ref=35089877” – I see what you did there mates.” He later updated that to say auto-fill rather than redirect.
Brave has made a big fuss about ensuring that users can “opt in” to ads, and those who do are paid in Basic Attention Tokens. But these affiliate links have been added without the knowledge and consent of users.
Rather than a glitch in the matrix, further digging by The Block researcher Larry Cermak suggested that affiliate links were also added whenever users start to search for the websites of Ledger, Trezor, and Coinbase in their address bar.
Brave CEO Brendan Eich confirmed this was accurate in an email to Modern Consensus.
“We made a mistake”
A few hours after the affiliate link additions were spotted, Eich tweeted: “We made a mistake, we’re correcting: Brave default autocompletes verbatim “http://binance.us” in the address bar to add an affiliate code. We are a Binance affiliate, we refer users via the opt-in trading widget on the new tab page, but autocomplete should not add any code.”
He said Brave’s intention had been to offer these affiliate links as an alternative option that users could choose from the address bar, rather than the one that is selected by default.
Eich added that Brave is attempting to build up a viable business, and confirmed that the company does “seek skin-in-game affiliate revenue” in order to balance the books, such as by referring browser users to exchanges like Binance. “Our users want Brave to live,” he tweeted.
He also stressed that work is being undertaken to ensure that no additions are made to autocompleted URLs. Brave users who are concerned about their privacy can disable these suggestions in their settings—and in a June 9 release, they
will be were turned off by default.
“We are clearly not perfect, but we correct course quickly,” Eich wrote.
Eich told Modern Consensus Brave was not remunerated by Binance based on the clicks generated from these affiliate links. Instead, it receives a share of the commission of the trades performed by users who subsequently sign up to the exchange. “We have not and will not receive any revenue share from Binance for autocomplete referrals,” he wrote.
Eich added that 70% of gross Brave Ads revenue has been shared out from the start. When it comes the commission Brave receives through a Binance trading widget added to its browser at the start of May, he said work is under way to give users a cut.
When asked whether or not this incident damages Brave’s credibility given how it has been a vocal critic of other browsers, Eich said: “The affiliate code in default completion is not a tracking code, it identifies Brave, not the user. So we do not see this as anything akin to what we criticize Google for. Furthermore, all browsers with default search deals add affiliate codes to search queries.”
Overshadowing a big milestone
The revelations came at a bad time for Brave, which would much rather had focused on the fact that it now has 15 million monthly active users—with 5 million using the browser on a daily basis. That’s a 125% increase over the past year.
The privacy-focused browser also got a big endorsement on June 2, when musician Reggie Watts mentioned he used it on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, which has 8 million YouTube subscribers and about 190 million downloads a month, Rogan claims. Rogan also said he uses Brave. The episode has almost 2.9 million views on YouTube as of press time.
It seems the furor has had little impact on the value of Basic Attention Tokens. At the time of writing, their value had risen by more than 12% over the past week and stood at $0.247.
Updated at 10:44 a.m. on June 9, 2020, to reflect Brave’s patch of the affiliate link auto-complete issue.