- Blockchain: Ethereum
- Classification: Utility Token
- Function: Advertising
- Project Status: Gemini
- Circulating Supply: 1,000,000,000
- Total Supply: 1,500,000,000
- Market cap: $165,862,813 USD
- Exchanges: Binance, Bittrex, and all major exchanges
- Consensus Algorithm: POW until Ethereum’s switch to POS
- ICO: 5/11/2017
Points of Confidence:
- Working product with emphasis on user privacy and security – Brave web browser
- Advertisers, publishers, and users will benefit from using the ecosystem
- Utility token – meaning more adoption leads to higher and less volatile prices
- High chance of addition to Coinbase, leading to a surge in price and adoption of the token
- Open to being bought out by any of its major competitors, including Google
- Network effect of existing browsers may hinder the growth of Brave and thus BAT.
- Google and Facebook may attempt to curb the growth of BAT due to their domination over search engines and social media
In the realm of blockchains and the cryptocurrencies that empower them, investors with even the most basic knowledge know to look for opportunities to invest in companies who at least have evidence of a somewhat functional product to show the world that they can deliver a fully functional service and are not yet another get-rich-quick scheme. While many projects struggle to get off the ground or hit one roadblock after another, Basic Attention Token (BAT) is an ERC-20 token that was released by a privacy-focused browser company called Brave Software, to work within tandem with their fully functional web browser, the Brave browser.
Brave was developed from Chromium, the open source version of Google Chrome, and created with the intent of providing an experience devoid of the infringement of privacy and the affliction of malware present in other browsers. To this end, they have partnered with DuckDuckGo, a search engine that never stores any personal information does not track users in or out of private browsing, and by default, does not display any ads. It also provides a seamless experience for users by not requiring users to affirm that they are human. Additionally, private tabs in Brave may also use Tor browsing in order to keep ISP, guest Wi-Fi providers, and visited sites that may be watching their internet connection or even tracking and collecting IP addresses from knowing what the users are doing. The Tor aspect of the browser, however, is not leak-proof, and Brave has even recommended that its users try the Tor Browser itself if they want their browsing history to remain absolutely untraceable. Brave’s open source nature makes it completely auditable for anyone who wants to take a peek under the hood to see that there aren’t any backdoors to enable malicious activity.
We like to field test any software available to us relating to the projects we research, and set out with the intention to fully rely on Brave to write and edit this report. In an estimated 30 – 40 hours of combined research and personal browsing, we don’t recall seeing any ads (except when comparing a site with shields on vs. off), even when visiting several ad-blocker testing websites as well as a health blog notorious for having so many ads, queries, and background processes that it can crash other browsers, such as Safari. However, while the Brave browser is an impenetrable fortress of an ad blocker, it does have a number of problems that will hopefully be dealt with in the near future.
During the research and writing of this report, the team was met with a slew of issues when using the desktop version of Brave. One of the most disappointing was a slight difficulty encountered when writing in Google Docs – there seems to be an incompatibility with Google’s extension for Docs, despite being built on Chromium. Since Google is an advertising competitor, they may not find it beneficial to develop a compatible extension for Brave. Granted, compatibility issues are nothing out of the ordinary for any new browser, as the web is full of different frameworks that require plugins to run them. The browser is still a very strong step in the right direction for user privacy. Other bugs and incompatibilities will be discussed in the conclusion section.
Ads and trackers have numerous problems associated with them: invasion of privacy and collection of data in order to sell personal information to other interested parties, malvertisements, malware from unverified ads, a consistent drain on the battery of the device being used and a subsequent shortened lifespan of the battery itself. Advertisements may not even come from the advertiser directly, but instead from ad exchanges that choose the ads they want to display from a randomized assortment of ads. These ads may not have been verified to be malware-free, and could even have the ability to inject spyware, crypto mining software, or ransomware to the detriment of not only the user of the browser and computer itself, but important files, accounts, and identity. Ad fraud is another pertinent issue, whereby publishers may rig the system by enabling the bots to generate “clicks” or impressions for them and thus increase their revenue at the expense of the advertisers. The actions of these bots resulted in $7.2 billion in fraud in 2016 alone.
What is arguably the biggest showstopper in Brave for its users is probably the fact that it has very capable ad and tracker blockers, as well as the option to allow certain ads by publishers who use BAT. Brave uses a software called AdGraph, which uses supervised learning, a form of AI technology, to model the behavior of automatically blocking ads and trackers. It not only replicates, with 97.7% accuracy, popular filter lists that are crowdsourced from the Internet, but also goes beyond that to block ads and trackers that are missed by these lists. AdGraph uses a learning algorithm that surpasses the quality of ad-blocking extensions like the widely used AdBlock Plus, which relies on manually maintained filter lists. Additionally, in light of the recent wave of regulations in response to data collection by IT giants and advertisers, BAT has made sure that it is GDPR/e-privacy compliant from ground up.
End-users can be paid in BAT if they allow publishers that have decided to use the ecosystem to display ads on their screen, thus the name “Basic Attention Token.” Their aim is to disrupt online advertising using their Brave browser and namesake token. Middlemen advertising companies take a large cut of advertising rates and have no one to hold them accountable in their traffic reporting. By eliminating them, more of a company’s advertising budget can be allocated to the ads themselves and as incentive to end-users by compensating them for their attention. Users are slated to receive 70% of the revenue earned by the ads sold by Brave when they view a private advertisement tab that pops open on their browser. This arrangement will make them less likely to succumb to banner blindness and thus consciously view the ad. Ads are also rate limited per individual and browser while only being shown in active tabs, making them less intrusive than pop-up tabs that plague certain unpolished websites and, additionally, better for the user’s battery due to the conservation of mobile data. In the case of users viewing ads by the publisher, 15% of the tokens are allotted to users.
The mechanism in place to measure the users’ attention is the Basic Attention Metrics (BAM), in order to compensate them with the requisite BAT. BAM primarily measures the duration spent on a tab which has been deemed as “active,” as well as the ads’ actual number of pixels that were in view during that time, which in combination will be considered as the attention value. Brave has the ability present in most modern browsers of detecting whether the browser is actually being looked at or the browser’s position relative to other items on screen. Of course, if and when BAT integrates with other browsers, it will be able to obtain the same metrics there as well. Additionally, machine learning will be applied in Brave in order to obtain an accurate profile of the user’s habits in order to show them ads that are relevant to them, to the point that it won’t show ads for products that they have already purchased – which is a tremendous step above existing digital ad systems. This profile is built around an understanding of the user’s behavior, known as an “intent signal.”
Even better is the fact that this data is stored and encrypted in the user’s device alone, protecting the user from personal data aggregation by the advertisers, ISPs, or other malicious third-party services. The server side has no access to this data, nor does it have the decryption key to do so if they wished to access it. These intent signals are made in such a way that they include as little data as possible about the user when they are sent out by the browser during ad requests, so as to maximize the value of the three involved parties without exposing too much about the user. The attribution for the analytics obtained from these signals can be confirmed using a special type of cryptography known as Zero Knowledge Proofs (ZKPs).
The aforementioned facets incentivize users to not rely on traditional ad blockers, which are estimated to be used in about 600 million devices and take a significant portion of publishers’ revenue as a result. The removal of trackers also reduces website load times in the browser. Users can opt-in to ads and trackers if they want to by choosing the options in the preferences panel. Cookies can be blocked globally or on a site-by-site basis, with third-party cookies (that, unlike first-party cookies, are not from the site being visited) being blocked by default.
Brave’s features have secured a substantial position in the mobile market, with the app being ranked among the top 10 in the free communication apps category on Android, with 5 million downloads, and in both the ‘browser’ and ‘web browser’ searches in the App store. A BAT wallet will be added to Android very soon. BAT is also one among a handful of virtual currencies that have been approved by Apple, allowing it to be traded within apps on all iOS devices.
In September 2017, the transition began to the actual real-world use of BAT via its addition to Brave Payments. Publishers and YouTube producers were able to sign up to be at the receiving end of Brave Payments, through which they receive BAT from their followers, who freely received these tokens on their Brave wallets from the pool of tokens reserved by the company for publisher promotion. Another undertaking that was done in order to incentivize publishers and YouTubers to adopt their service was the launch of a referral program in January 2018, by which $1 million in BAT was doled out to those who could get users to sign up for the browser. Five dollars’ worth of BAT was handed out for each user that was referred. Nearly 12,000 such interested parties were obtained, including some YouTubers who are popular and quite influential on their platform – such as Philip DeFranco, for example, who has 6.2 million subscribers at the time of this writing. Additionally, in February, Brave added Twitch support.
Brave frequently hosts such programs in order to attract more participants to their ecosystem, as was stated in the terms of their token sale regarding what they intend to do with a portion of the funds they had received. Additionally, they have partnered with a few high-profile premier publishers, such as Dow Jones Media Group, the Guardian, Washington Post, and Vimeo, as they stated they would do in the Gemini stage of their roadmap.
Their roadmap has stated that they intend to continue working on improving the dashboards built for both their publishers and advertisers. Users were able to sign up for early access for a special test version of Brave that shows 250 pre-packaged ads to the users once they opted-in. This was done in order for Brave to obtain an accurate model that understands users’ browsing habits for accurately showing them relevant ads from the ad catalog. Although this was slated to happen in early 2018, the tests only began in June. Various scoring mechanisms were also employed earlier, primarily based on the number of seconds spent in an active tab as well as the number of views of a specific ad. Information on a finalized revenue model will eventually be released in order to bring on board more ad agencies and publishers. This will be the largest upcoming event for Brave, as it will hopefully jumpstart the momentum for BAT and the Brave browser to be widely recognized as a solid product for everyday use.
Another interesting possibility for BAT is a much-anticipated listing as one of the first ERC20 tokens on Coinbase, as detailed in this article by our friends over at EAG: https://medium.com/@PolarChain/why-basic-attention-token-bat-will-be-the-first-erc-20-token-listed-on-coinbase-9d82ce9c23ad
As the article mentions, Brave and Coinbase have numerous connections with one another, one of which is the fact that Ankur Nandwani, Product Manager Coinbase, is an adviser to Brave. Coinbase also just recently announced that it was considering adding BAT to its set of cryptocurrencies, among a handful of other coins. BAT and ZRX are the only ERC20 tokens among them, and given their announcement earlier in March about adding that class of assets, they seem to be the most likely additions. This will not only make BAT surge drastically in price, with the website and browser being the gateway for the masses into the crypto market through its limited set of fiat pairs, but also increase the adoption through the buying of and spreading the word about BAT to newcomers.
BAT also has a fiat pairing on the Indian exchange Zebpay, which allows BAT to be bought or sold with rupees (INR). Unfortunately, this exchange is now unable to conduct transactions with banks due to recent regulations imposed by India’s central banking institution.
State of the Market:
Online advertising is in somewhat of a state of emergency. The digital ad market has seen phenomenal growth over the last few years, reaching $88 billion in 2017. However, there is stagnation in the effectiveness and validity of these ads. In fact, World Federation of Advertisers estimates $16 billion in ad fraud in 2017, and predicts that this will rise to around $50 billion by 2025. Also, with all that money pouring into ads and tracking, user engagement and ad click-through rates are staying consistently low. Part of the problem is the “middlemen” of advertising that Brave describes in their whitepaper. These are ad exchanges where ad space is bought and sold by advertisers and publishers respectively en masse. Often, these exchanges are filled with fraudulent publishers who offer falsified impressions.
According to the BAT website, Facebook and Google account for 73% of all ad dollars and a majority of all growth in the online advertisement space. This makes reports of clickjacking and other types of ad fraud especially concerning. Many of these problems occur via distributed content hosting, whereby these large platforms promote preferred news publishing websites to the massive number of users of their services. These websites would have to use Facebook Instant Articles or Google AMP to gain this preference, but lose out on the percentage of revenue they receive in the process.
While ad exchanges are trying to overcome bots, fraudulent page impressions, and low-quality inventory, BAT is creating a whole new system for digital advertising. Bots comprised three times as high a percentage in sourced traffic as per the 2015 Baseline Bot Study about fraud in digital advertising by WhiteOps & ANA (Association of National Advertisers). BAT prevents this by eliminating third party sourcing of bots. The rate limitation of ads and payouts is another way of preventing bots from being deployed on a large scale. The reduction of middlemen by Brave will eliminate fees and latency otherwise experienced during the process of ad-serving. Removal of the fraudulent layered ad injection, which Google’s ad network has had to face the brunt of, will be made possible by placing personalized ads based only on data that is stored on device.
The browser, which looks at the user’s actions and determines whether or not they resemble those of a human rather than a bot, also draws another line that makes it much harder for bot developers to cross. Ads themselves are not entirely reliant on the old CPC model and instead look at various other metrics, making it useless to even deploy click bots or other services to increase ad views. The KYC (Know Your Customer) requirements for withdrawal of tokens will help with anti-fraud in this respect as well.
Since BAT operates as a manual and automated payment system, it is imperative that it runs on a blockchain, which ensures that the immutable payment transactions are secure. If there was a centralized alternative to BAT, the funds would need to be kept secure and managed by a trusted authority. The blockchain also provides security and trustless authority by way of wallet storage and decentralized consensus of the tokens. Tokenized systems running in a centralized system are subject to single-point failures and various other potential threats.
Nothing else quite like BAT exists as of now. Since the dot-com boom of the early ‘90s, the web has seen a rise and fall of countless iterations of PTS (pay to surf) and PTC (pay to click) advertising models, in which a third party company pays users to watch ads or view websites. The cost to advertisers for essentially unverifiable if not illegitimate traffic is high in these cases. It can also be seen that the revenue generated by publishers is decreasing as existing oligarchies and more middlemen gain increasing control of the ad space. With the development of a decentralized service such as BAT, everyone can benefit from online ads within a system that fairly favors all parties, including users, advertisers, and publishers. BAT truly stands apart from other advertising models as users are actually incentivized to view ads that are curated and rate-limited for them.
Does BAT increase security/profits/transparency?
The business model of BAT is one that could stand to improve the security, profits, and transparency of the advertising world. The blockchain ensures auditability on a macroeconomic scale by nature whilst leaving the transactions as anonymous, allowing BAT’s revolutionary business model to creates a new way for a variety of parties to benefit without taking any additional measures.
Is there a good use case?
The advantage in utilizing the blockchain essentially comes from the trustless and auditable payouts of BAT to users and publishers, eliminating the risk of fraud for the previous two entities as well as for advertisers, while automating the process of payment. For users interested in being paid for their attention, this is a step-up over the earlier PTS and PTC models. The decentralized nature of BAT enables such a process, and especially aids in cutting out all the middlemen exchanges that take a great deal of the revenue and pose security threats to users.
As mentioned previously, users are compensated with BAT based on the attention they give to relevant ads that they have opted-in for. The advertisers stock up on BAT and allocate portions of them to the publishers that choose to display them and the users who view them. BAT can be paid manually by users to websites in exchange for premium services. A few of the use cases of the token in the ecosystem are, for example, if small businesses would like to put up ads that target a highly specific demographic, or if a user wishes to gift access to a premium article to their friends, in which case these entities pay BAT to the appropriate websites.
Brave Payments is a system in place for users to help their favorite content creators, whereby if it is enabled, micro-donations are automatically handed out anonymously from a user’s Brave wallet to the websites based on the amount of time they devote to those sites. Users can also choose to be patrons for certain favorite sites by pinning them and giving them a certain amount every month. The monthly budget can be decided from a drop-down list in the Brave Payments options from the browser menu. The recipients also include authors of articles, YouTubers, Twitter users, and Twitch streamers.
As shown above, the sites that are included will receive your BAT automatically. However, they need a green tick to the left of the site name in order for them to be able to collect or withdraw the coins/tokens, as that indicates that they are verified partners. Content creators on content hosting sites like YouTube and Twitch will have to register in a separate place from publishers/website owners.
Brave does not hold any information about the wallets associated with the lists of sites that were chosen to be supported, therefore maintaining user privacy. A technology known as “Anonize,” which uses ZKPs, is used to make the payments anonymous but accountable. Brave is partnered with digital money platform Uphold for Brave Payments. How it works is that wallet addresses for sending BTC, ETH, LTC, or BAT is provided by the Brave Payment tabs after the user clicks on “Add funds.” The crypto can be obtained from Uphold or any other source, but the transactions are processed by Uphold in either case. The other cryptocurrencies are automatically converted to BAT once they are received by the wallet.
While there does not currently seem to be a way for users to easily withdraw tokens yet, content creators and publishers can use Uphold for that purpose. They will first have to be verified at this site, after which they can connect their Uphold wallet to their account. The wallet can be easily accessed from the dashboard whenever the partner logs in. The tokens can be exchanged for dollars at Uphold.
Eventually, however, users will also have the ability to transfer tokens multi-directionally with their BAT wallets. A requirement for this is that they complete their KYC process. CEO Brendan Eich has expressed his desire to use the Civic Platform for doing this in a decentralized manner, with the latter’s CEO having tweeted to him that fiat exchange quality KYC should be easy to implement.
While the majority of Brave’s competition will come from existing advertising giants, namely Facebook and Google, there are a few other advertisement related blockchain companies which are vying for a place in the spotlight. However, none seem to be quite as ambitious or competent as Brave.
Adzbuzz seems to have their sights set on being a multi-purpose solution to many of the same problems Brave is set to disrupt. An Adzbuzz code placed in the website’s code checks the user’s web browser for ad blockers. When an ad blocker is detected by the Adzbuzz code, the ads are replaced by an Adzbuzz widget which the user can use to support the website by sending ADZ. Unlike the Brave browser, Adzbuzz is a social network where users can share content and advertisers can buy ADZcoins and exchange them for lifelong adspace. The project originated in late 2015, much before the relative ubiquity of Ethereum-based tokens. It was built in a manner similar to Bitcoin, with it being primarily proof of work and having its separate blockchain with a limited number of mineable coins. It does not seem to have attained much traction, judging by the general lack of familiarity about the project as well as its sub-million market cap. The project seems to be active to date, however, with a small but faithful community.
Oyster Pearl (PRL)
Oyster is less of a direct threat to Brave, as it is merely a new way for websites to generate revenue and eliminate banner ads. By harnessing the CPU and GPU power of users to authenticate rights (mining) for Oyster, users spend PRL tokens in exchange to upload data to a decentralized online storage service. The websites earn revenue from the users of the file storage system while website visitors get to enjoy ad-free websites.
For Brave to really make an impact, they need to take on several advertising giants. This task will be no small undertaking, and it seems that Brave is well aware of that, with a team of around 70 people. As if this project couldn’t get any more exciting, or if you still have reservations about their ability to change the world of digital advertising, let us take a look at just a few noteworthy members of this all-star team.
Brendan Eich – CEO, Brave Co-Founder. Previously:
- Co-founded Mozilla & Firefox
Brian Bondy – Lead Developer, Brave Co-Founder Previously:
- Khan Academy
Yan Zhu – Senior Engineer, EFF Fellow. Previously:
- Tor Project
- HTTPS Everywhere
- Privacy Badger
Prof. Johnny Ryan – Chief Policy & Industry Relations Officer. Previously:
- PageFair – research and analysis, regarding the impact of ad blocking on publishers
- Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) University of Cambridge
Other past companies in the collective work history include JD Power, Korrelate, Trend Micro, Microsoft, AOL, Netscape.
Ankur Nandwani. Previously:
- Product Manager at Coinbase,
Greg Badros, Angel investor. Previously:
- Google, Facebook
The ICO took place on May 31st 2017 and sold out within 30 seconds. The total amount that was raised during the ICO was $36,000,000 (156,250 ETH) at $0.360, for a total of 1,000,000,000 tokens, or a rate of 6400 BAT per ETH. There was no cap on the individual contribution amount, which resulted in such a quick sale. This lack of an individual cap prevented a lot of people from getting into the sale. The highest bid in the sale was for $4.7 million (20,000 ETH) worth of tokens. Buyers increased their gas or mining fees to ensure their place in the front of the line, resulting in one person paying $6,000 to guarantee their place at the top of it. These circumstances resulted in only 130 people being able to buy in – with the top 5 buyers owning half of the supply that was sold and the top 20 addresses holding 2/3rds of the supply. The manner in which this ICO was conducted was far from ideal, with the necessary checks and balances to allow a fair and less centralized distribution of tokens not being in place, unlike what has been ensured as standard practices in more recent high profile ICOs. Of course, the way the ICO was conducted disappointed several people who wanted to buy into the sale. Nevertheless, it was referred to as a huge success by Brendan, as it was the highest grossing ICO to that date.
500,000,000 tokens were not released during the sale, with 200 million BAT reserved for Brave and the remaining 300 million BAT to be used for the User Growth Pool. As of July 2018, the number of addresses that hold BAT have shot up to around 65,000, with the top 5 addresses holding around 46% of the supply. The address with the largest amount of BAT has 341 million such tokens, or 22% of the supply. The value of BAT has seen some fluctuation since its release after the ICO. The value at one point dropped as low as $0.069, but it’s all time high was in January 2018, where it briefly saw $0.97 USD.
BAT has a highly experienced team with a working product that may have the potential to outdo its entrenched competitors. The ecosystem it offers has various benefits to its participants. Advertisers and publishers will see the benefit of using BAT with the elimination of middlemen and fraud, which take a significant portion of their revenue away, while users will see their privacy and security maintained along with value given to their attention and screen real estate, as well as the additional perks of paying to access premium features. Better yet, users can opt-in for these perks or choose to continue using Brave as a completely ad-free browser. No system is completely fraud resistant, but BAT with its BAM and other mentioned countermeasures will make it very hard to game its ads. As with any utility token, the value of BAT will significantly increase and become more stable as the level of adoption and daily usage of the token attains new heights. The team’s connections with Coinbase, the entry point for the masses into the crypto market, make it a likely place for BAT to be listed. A Coinbase listing would likely lead to a surge in both BAT’s price and adoption for the coin. Our optimistic estimate puts the number of BAT wallets at around 1.3 million by the end of 2018, given that current estimates put the number of Brave browser users by that time at 4.5-5 million. The downsides are that the network effect from existing browsers and search engines could stifle growth. Google Chrome (53% of all online browsing) may also hinder Brave, which BAT currently relies on, from seeing mass adoption. The small portion of users truly concerned with privacy may choose an existing service that upgrades to such features, such as what Apple is doing with Safari.
As mentioned in the introduction, the Brave browser does have several bugs and compatibility issues. We would like to list the roadblocks we faced while using it:
- Tabs tend to reload on their own if reopened. This halts progress for certain types of sessions, such as YouTube videos.
- Reopening a tab sometimes causes a log-out to happen. This can be remedied by closing the current tab and reopening the URL in a new tab.
- A reason behind opening the desired destination URL in a new tab is because going to a new destination within the same tab causes the tab to crash and display a black screen with the following icon.
- The browser causes sites which send out pop-ups or attempt to gather info for their analytics to crash, according to Brendan Eich.
- We faced a few issues while editing the Google Doc for this report, such as being unable to copy and paste text without formatting.
Followed by a failure to install the extension:
Still, the issues we faced did not take away from the Brave browser’s core functionality as an ad blocker and ad server.
Even if BAT plug-ins are added to other browsers like Chrome, Google still maintains a monopoly of choosing which pages appear first according to their search results and news feeds. Just as with the case of AMP news articles being preferred, search results may prefer sites that run Google ads over BAT-powered ones. The upside to these aspects of their competition is that CEO Brendan Eich has stated that he is open to Brave Software being bought out by Google or Facebook.
One may also argue that even if BAT does succeed in overcoming all of these obstacles, another huge hurdle will be the lack of familiarity of the general public with cryptocurrencies. Conversely, BAT could just as easily end up serving as a major adoption entry point for the masses into the nascent and volatile world of cryptocurrency.