The ad-blocking Brave web browser startup has landed two blows on Google, dumping the search engine for rival Qwant in France and Germany and lodging a formal complaint in Europe against Google's ad privacy practices.
Brave picked Qwant, which bills itself as "the search engine that respects your privacy," as part of its effort to capitalize on privacy concerns that have grown in the wake of countless data breaches and Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal.
"With the ongoing privacy invasions from technology giants that make a living by exploiting user data, people need tools to fight back and take a stand to protect themselves," Brendan Eich, Brave chief executive and former Mozilla Firefox leader, said in a statement Thursday.
And Brave, in conjunction with the Open Rights Group and University College London researcher Michael Veale, filed complaints in Europe saying Google violates the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by broadcasting personal information to companies bidding to show targeted ads.
Privacy is a big deal as we share and store more about ourselves online and as companies get better at tracking our behavior to pick ads that we're more likely to be interested in. But it's often proved hard to get people to change behavior to improve their privacy, and changing search-engine defaults can be a transitory move. Mozilla picked Yahoo's search engine as Firefox's default in the US, but ultimately withdraw from the deal early, saying in a legal fight with Yahoo's new Verizon owners that 77 percent of users switched away within about a year and a half.
Brave thinks privacy is worth caring about, though.
"There is a massive and systematic data breach at the heart of the behavioral advertising industry," said Johnny Ryan, Brave's chief policy and industry relations officer. "Ads can be useful and relevant without broadcasting intimate personal data," he said, a perspective that jibes with Brave's plan to show ads that are targeted by the browser itself without broadcasting data to publishers and advertisers.
For its part, Google denied any wrongdoing.
"We build privacy and security into all our products from the very earliest stages and are committed to complying with the EU General Data Protection Regulation," the company said in a statement. "We provide users with meaningful data transparency and controls across all the services that we provide in the EU, including for personalized advertising."
Through a project phase called Gemini, Brave has begun testing its ad system, notable for the fact that it'll pay not just publishers who display ads but also Brave users who choose to see those ads. It's set to debut later this year, built into an overhauled version of the browser that Brave just began testing.
Why stick with Qwant?
In Brave's view, it doesn't filter search results to your own proven interests and thus "confine the user to a filter bubble" where you hear only like-minded voices. And it doesn't track people or save your search history.
Search engines can provide lucrative revenue to browsers. In exchange for search queries from the browser, search engines can share a portion of resulting ad revenue. Brave, though, doesn't have any deals with Google.
And it's not likely that relations between Brave and Google are going to get any warmer with Brave's GDPR violation complaint against Google.
"The overriding commercial incentive for many ad tech companies is to share as much data with as many partners as possible," Ryan told CNET. "This is a 'clean tech' moment, and ad tech is fighting it the same way that Detroit fought the electric car. It is time to move on."
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