Digital currency-powered internet browser Brave came under fire recently after it was revealed it autocompletes URLs typed into the browser’s address bar to a version of the link it profits from via partnership agreements.
The website was reportedly caught violating its community’s trust by redirecting searches for digital currency companies to affiliate links that give Brave commission, according to Decrypt. The default completion feature had been hiding in plain sight for months inside the browser’s open-source code on GitHub.
Brave made a name for itself as a “privacy” focused browser with an opt-in policy for display advertisements. Although the redirects revealed no user data, Brave’s creators never gained their community’s consent to monetize from the user search queries.
This issue was first noticed when a user Yannick Eckl detected that searching for digital currency exchange Binance redirected to an affiliate version of the URL. Soon, others found yet more affiliate redirect links for the websites of Ledger, Trezor, and Coinbase.
Brave CEO and co-founder Brendan Eich apologized for the unethical breach in the community’s trust, calling it a “mistake” made by the company that has since been fixed. Eich said, “We will never revise typed in domains again, I promise.”
Eich also partially defended Brave’s actions, explaining how it’s trying to build a viable business operation, and part of that strategy includes skin-in-game affiliate revenue. “To do this, Brave must bring its users to exchanges through widgets and also look for revenue deals, as all major browsers do – we are clearly not perfect, but we correct course quickly,” Eich tweeted.
5/ The autocomplete default was inspired by search query clientid attribution that all browsers do, but unlike keyword queries, a typed-in URL should go to the domain named, without any additions. Sorry for this mistake — we are clearly not perfect, but we correct course quickly.
— BrendanEich (@BrendanEich) June 6, 2020
Eich has a corporate responsibility to identify and implement viable solutions to generate revenue for Brave. Here, he forgot his moral obligation to announce to users that his “privacy” focused browser was earning revenue off the behavior they take on his platform. As a result, the community’s outrage showed how quickly Brave could lose the community’s faith in seconds that it took years for them to build.
Eich approach separates Brave from other blockchain tech companies like Twetch, which lets users monetize their attention and online interactions. This controversy comes when consumer confidence in online enterprises is declining as both Google and Facebook grapple with users who no longer trust the tech titans with their data.
Trust can be re-built if done correctly. Brave has committed to be more transparent by checking all manners that affiliate codes appear in its user interface. After clearly outlining to users differences between affiliate-coded suggestions, completions based on history, bookmarks, and open tabs; and search queries.
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