Ad-Blocking Brave Browser Draws Fire From Newspapers - InformationWeek

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4/11/2016
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Ad-Blocking Brave Browser Draws Fire From Newspapers

The Brave browser, designed to replace bad ads with better ones, has the newspaper industry threatening legal action.

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The Newspaper Association of America (NAA) earlier this month threatened Brave Software with copyright infringement litigation if the company continues with its plan to allow users of its Web browser, rather than publishers, to make choices that affect the presentation of online ads.

A letter sent to Brave CEO Brendan Eich, cosigned by the legal counsels of 17 major newspaper companies, stated, "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."

In January, Brave launched a developer preview of its browser for Android, Linux, iOS, OS X, and Windows that offers protection from invasive and malicious ads to users and revenue to publishers struggling with ad blocking.

Eich says his company wants to eliminate the ads that drive users to ad blocking by replacing them with better ads -- ads served anonymously through Brave's network. Brave users also have the option to block ads and will eventually be able to pay directly for content through Bitcoin. But this alternative revenue model doesn't appeal to the NAA.

Ad blocking has become a major issue for online publishers. In a report released last August, PageFair, a marketing consultancy, and Adobe, a provider of marketing and analytics software, estimated that ad blocking cost publishers $22 billion in 2015. The report found that ad blocking grew globally by 41% between Q2 2014 and Q2 2015. In the US, there were 45 million monthly active users of ad blocking software during Q2 2015, a 48% increase from a year earlier.

Companies like Apple have made ad blocking easier by offering "content blocking" APIs in iOS 9. Last month, browser maker Opera introduced native ad blocking.

It's not that technology companies wish to see publishers fail. Rather, they see demand for ad blocking among Internet users who believe that the ad industry's will to self-regulate has failed. The PageFair/Adobe survey asked 400 US-based respondents who were not using ad blocking software what might make them start. Half of the respondents cited misuse of personal information.

(Image: Brave Software)

(Image: Brave Software)

Brave aims to block the tracking that accompanies online ads by not disclosing information to advertisers or their service providers. In a rebuttal of the NAA's claims, Eich points to the problems with current ad ecosystem.

"Abusive, excessive, and even dangerous online advertising is driving users to adopt ad blockers en masse, and this is a trend that will not be reversed by legal threats, server-side anti-blocker countermeasures, or harsh language," Eich wrote in a blog post. "We note that malware has been distributed on the websites of the New York Times and the BBC recently through the ill-designed, unregulated, and poorly-delegated third-party advertising technology ecosystem."

As if to underscore Eich's point, Forbes, which has been intermittently experimenting with a way to prevent people with ad blocking software from accessing its site, was found to be serving malicious ads in January. The scope of the problem is enormous. In January, Google said it disabled 780 million ads that violated its policies last year.

Eich contends that copyright claims of the NAA are overreaching because browsers do not present content in a fixed form. "Web content is published as HTML markup documents with the express intent of not specifying how that content is actually presented to the browser user," he argues. "Browsers are free to ignore, rearrange, mash-up and otherwise make use of any content from any source."

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Eich claims that if Brave's presentation of HTML represents "republication" in the sense of copyright law, then so do other browsers that customize presentation, such as Apple's Safari (which offers Reader mode), any browser using an ad blocking extension, the Links text-only browser, and screen readers for the visually impaired.

Asked to comment on Eich's response, NAA CEO David Chavern said in an emailed statement, "We continue to support our members' interest in their cease-and-desist letter notifying Brave of its planned unlawful activities. While we appreciate Brave's interest in defending its business model, and would not have expected otherwise, we continue to view their proposition as crossing legal boundaries."

It may be the NAA's intention to litigate away ad blockers, but that strategy has proven to be a resounding failure outside the US. In Germany last month, Eyeo, the maker of Adblock Plus, won a fifth legal challenge to its software.  

In a phone interview, Mitch Stoltz, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the NAA's claim falls into a bit of a gray area. "Cases have gone both ways on this point," he said, noting that in some instances where websites have presented content in a frame, that's been considered infringement.

"If the claim that the publishers are making is everyone must view their pages exactly as intended, that's dangerous," said Stoltz, because an adverse ruling could affect screen readers and other tools for customizing Web content.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
5/1/2016 | 11:24:21 AM
Re: Human originality
@SaneIT: I guess I don't think about it as much because Facebook's sponsored content is about as relevant to me as the nonsense my Facebook friends post.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
4/29/2016 | 8:24:19 AM
Re: Human originality
It's funny how that circles back around to the ad-blocking issue.  Had people not been so annoyed by the ads then the ad blocking market would not have taken off.  I do think that Facebook does a slightly better job of keeping ads less annoying but the sponsored pages that seem to pop up into my feed that it acts like I asked to see need some fine tuning.  Their ads are generally not annoying but often enough the targeting seems to be off, which I guess I prefer when given the choice between that and flashing banner images.
Joe Stanganelli
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50%
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
4/28/2016 | 11:03:22 PM
Re: Human originality
Facebook actually conducted a study that demonstrates that people hate unexpected/unsolicited sound from autoplay videos.  This is why the videos in your Facebook News Feed default as silent; Facebook found that users prefer to opt in to sound.

And, of course, if anyone had bothered to ask an actual user eight years ago, they could have found that out for themselves.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
4/27/2016 | 10:27:38 AM
Re: Human originality
I'm laughing but I still see some of those types of sites around worse, sites that auto play videos when the page loads.  Nothing like opening something to read and there's a video halfway down the page that you can't see but it's playing anyway.  I even see flashing banner ads from time to time "YOU'RE A WINNER".
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
4/27/2016 | 1:25:11 AM
Re: Human originality
@SaneIT: Hey, at one point, about 17 years ago, people thought it was a good idea to design your website to autoplay a MIDI file.  Marketers sort of went from there, I guess.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
4/26/2016 | 8:13:56 AM
Re: Human originality
Lingerie ads don't pop over the article you're reading and do their best to avoid being closed so that you can actually reach the content either.  I often wonder what the trigger was that made this type of advertising appealing to journalistic sites.  Maybe it was because many of them were reluctant adopters of the internet and they followed a canned model that someone was selling them.  This brings up another somewhat sore point with news sites, when there is a news story that an outlet is pushing unless it is an ongoing situation that they can live stream good luck finding it online.  They push hard to keep broadcasts or print as the top tier for news and honestly that is not how the majority of the world gets their news now. 
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
4/25/2016 | 11:54:35 AM
Re: Human originality
@SaneIT: Your comment got me thinking about the irony now that we've reached a point where online "journalism site" ads are now more obscene, in a way, than the lingerie ads in newspapers.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
4/25/2016 | 8:19:12 AM
Re: Human originality
I'm not saying that the click bait ads don't get people to click them.  I just roll my eyes and close the page when I see ads like that.  Your point about not having to worry about the damage done when opening the newspaper is dead on.  Why should a newspaper's website be any different, aren't they supposed to have journalistic integrity?  How are click bait and scam ads showing that integrity? What the garbage ads show me is that they are less worried about their image and integrity than they are about how a medium can make them money with minimal effort. 
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
4/22/2016 | 9:27:21 AM
Re: Human originality
@SaneIT: But people fall for clickbait!  Most people, anyway.  You wouldn't believe the traction I get on clickbaity-headlined articles on my social feeds compared to the more reasonably titled ones.

More important, in any case, is the issue of security.  Opening a newspaper bears no risk of the underwear ads rising up, forcing you out of your house, changing the locks, and demanding ransom to be let back in lest they burn the house and all your possessions to the ground.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
4/22/2016 | 9:24:32 AM
Re: Kim Dotcom?
@Whoopty: The whole Internet is a race-to-the-bottom, monetization-wise.  What I have to see potentially security-compromising ads at one place or pay a subscription for at another I can get somewhere else for free and safely.
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