Brave Caught Revising URLs with Affiliate Links

Posted on June 8, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Web browsers with 14 Comments

Brave, which makes a privacy-focused web browser alternative, has been caught redirecting searches to crypto companies with affiliate links that pay it a commission. The firm says it has already stopped doing this immediately.

“A serious error in judgment [that] needs explanation,” Brave CEO Brendan Eich tweeted in response to one complaint about this practice. “We will never revise typed in domains again, I promise.”

Like many other browser makers, Brave takes the open-source Chromium web browser and adapts it, in this case by removing Google’s tracking technologies, blocking ads, and dramatically improving its performance and privacy. But Brave is unique among browser makers because of its business model: The firm offers opt-in advertisements called Brave Ads by which it derives some revenues.

Silently redirecting search queries, however, is a serious breach of trust. And while Eich maintains that his firm is simply “trying to build a viable business” and “seeks skin-in-game affiliate revenue too,” this wasn’t the way to do it. Worse, Eich says that there was nothing sneaky about the redirects, since the browser’s source code has always been available on GitHub.

The good news? The URL redirects never exposed any user data to affiliates, which makes sense given Brave’s privacy focus. But this may be a long-lasting blow to Brave’s reputation, something this small company and its controversial CEO can hardly afford.

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Comments (15)

15 responses to “Brave Caught Revising URLs with Affiliate Links”

  1. sherlockholmes

    Nice. And some say Brave is more secure and data save as Firefox.

  2. Chris_Kez

    It sometimes seems like there is no company left that isn’t terrible in some way large or small.

  3. StevenLayton

    Talk about punching yourself in the face.

  4. lvthunder

    They have to make money somehow. The only way to do a truly private browser would be to charge for it.

  5. dxtremebob

    I am a proud Firefox user.

  6. MikeCerm

    It's worth mentioning here that Brendan Eich is a bad guy who got forced out of Mozilla because he supported Prop. 8, which banned gay marriage in California. Also, the links they were caught "revising" were to a scammy cryptocurrency exchange site. All cryptocurrency is a pyramid scheme, but Brave has one built in. BAT gross because it basically steals ad revenue from websites and ransoms it back to them. "We're going to block your ads, replace them with our own ads, and you can "partner" with us if you want to share in the revenue our ads generate. And to do so, you must participate in our cryptocurrency pyramid scheme." It's gross. I do use Brave for certain things that don't work well in Firefox, but there's not way I'm ever using BAT, and Brendan Eich has definitely shown time and time again that he's a bad person with questionable morals and ethics.

  7. Fuller1754

    I like Brendan Eich, both as regards his ethical stances in general, and a tech influencer trying speaking up for privacy issues, first raising awareness about our broken attention-based economy and then trying to do something about it. This story is a disappointment, but certainly not a deal breaker.

  8. proftheory

    Eich says that there was nothing sneaky about the redirects, since the browser’s source code has always been available on GitHub.


    So now it's up to the user to download/Sync the repository to find out what the company is doing with the browser? Show of hands how many have the time and know how to do it?

  9. RonV42

    Glad I left Brave since MS made EDGE run on chromium.

  10. crunchyfrog

    Perhaps they should change their browser name to, "Bold".

  11. wright_is

    It wasn't redirecting searches, it turns out. It was just offering URLs to sites typed into the address bar with the affiliate link added, not changing any search results.

    Allegedly there were two problems, the suggesting of affiliate links is supposed to be turned off by default and a bug in the address bar code was auto-selecting the first suggestion (the affiliate link) as opposed to what the user has typed in.

    This second behaviour is something I have experienced in the past using Chrome and Edge (not an affiliate link, but it selecting something from the suggestions drop-down instead of what I type), so that could be a genuine bug.

    The first could be a bug or caught out, claimed as a bug and turned off as default...

    It isn't a good look, but the problem isn't as bad as many bloggers reported, at least they weren't actually manipulating search results.

  12. Greg Green

    In the end marketers are going to do what marketers are going to do. However the company has little more than a hundred employees, it’s difficult to understand how a CEO’s vision gets miscommunicated in a company that small. Maybe the reins are a little too loose.

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