Brave, DuckDuckGo just gave you another way to flip Google the middle finger

Brave has announced that its web browser will now allow users to bypass AMP pages hosted by Google, which it claims are harmful to both privacy and the state of the web.

The new De-AMP feature will instead funnel web users to content hosted directly on the publisher’s website, minimizing the opportunity for additional tracking and meddling to take place.

Not to be outdone, rival privacy software company DuckDuckGo rushed to Twitter to reveal that its apps and extensions now offer similar functionality, but the specifics of the implementation are not yet clear.

Google’s AMP troubles

Rolled out in 2015, AMP (short for accelerated mobile pages) is a system whereby stripped-back versions of trending web pages are preloaded and served up via Google servers.

When AMP was first announced, Google said it beleived the system would help ensure rich web content such as video and animation would load rapidly and behave consistently across all platforms, thereby improving the web experience.

However, the scheme has come under criticism from publishers and privacy advocates alike, who say AMP gives Google yet more signals to gobble up in support of its digital advertising business, creates confusion as to the source of information and forces publishers to build their websites to Google’s desired spec.

“AMP harms users’ privacy, security and internet experience, and just as bad, AMP helps Google further monopolize and control the direction of the web,” wrote Brave, in a blog post.

And in a Twitter thread, DuckDuckGo presented a similar justification for its decision to move against the initiative.

“AMP technology is bad for privacy because it enables Google to track users even more,” said the firm. “And Google uses AMP to further entrench its monopoly, forcing the technology on publishers by prioritizing AMP links in search and favoring Google ads on AMP pages.”

Since the launch of AMP, a number of publishers (including Future plc., parent to TechRadar Pro) have abandoned the system. And now, browser vendors like Brave and DuckDuckGo are coming out with their own tools to help web users bypass AMP altogether.

“Where possible, De-AMP will rewrite links and URLs to prevent users from visiting AMP pages altogether,” explained Brave. “And in cases where that is not possible, Brave will watch as pages are being fetched and redirect users away from AMP pages before the page is even rendered, preventing AMP/Google code from being loaded and executed.”

Brave’s De-AMP feature is now available in both Nightly and Beta versions of its browser and will be enabled by default in the next full public release. TechRadar Pro is awaiting further specifics about DuckDuckGo’s efforts.

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Brave, DuckDuckGo just gave you another way to flip Google the middle finger

Brave has announced that its web browser will now allow users to bypass AMP pages hosted by Google, which it claims are harmful to both privacy and the state of the web.

The new De-AMP feature will instead funnel web users to content hosted directly on the publisher’s website, minimizing the opportunity for additional tracking and meddling to take place.

Not to be outdone, rival privacy software company DuckDuckGo rushed to Twitter to reveal that its apps and extensions now offer similar functionality, but the specifics of the implementation are not yet clear.

Google’s AMP troubles

Rolled out in 2015, AMP (short for accelerated mobile pages) is a system whereby stripped-back versions of trending web pages are preloaded and served up via Google servers.

When AMP was first announced, Google said it beleived the system would help ensure rich web content such as video and animation would load rapidly and behave consistently across all platforms, thereby improving the web experience.

However, the scheme has come under criticism from publishers and privacy advocates alike, who say AMP gives Google yet more signals to gobble up in support of its digital advertising business, creates confusion as to the source of information and forces publishers to build their websites to Google’s desired spec.

“AMP harms users’ privacy, security and internet experience, and just as bad, AMP helps Google further monopolize and control the direction of the web,” wrote Brave, in a blog post.

And in a Twitter thread, DuckDuckGo presented a similar justification for its decision to move against the initiative.

“AMP technology is bad for privacy because it enables Google to track users even more,” said the firm. “And Google uses AMP to further entrench its monopoly, forcing the technology on publishers by prioritizing AMP links in search and favoring Google ads on AMP pages.”

Since the launch of AMP, a number of publishers (including Future plc., parent to TechRadar Pro) have abandoned the system. And now, browser vendors like Brave and DuckDuckGo are coming out with their own tools to help web users bypass AMP altogether.

“Where possible, De-AMP will rewrite links and URLs to prevent users from visiting AMP pages altogether,” explained Brave. “And in cases where that is not possible, Brave will watch as pages are being fetched and redirect users away from AMP pages before the page is even rendered, preventing AMP/Google code from being loaded and executed.”

Brave’s De-AMP feature is now available in both Nightly and Beta versions of its browser and will be enabled by default in the next full public release. TechRadar Pro is awaiting further specifics about DuckDuckGo’s efforts.

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Brave update slams the door on devious ‘bounce tracking’ technique

Brave Software has rolled out an update for its privacy-centric web browser to combat an invasive tracking technique capable of bypassing existing protections.

As explained in the company’s latest blog post, bounce tracking is a method of circumventing protections by pulling users through intermediate domains as they navigate between web pages, without their knowledge. Over time, this practice could supposedly allow a third-party to build up a detailed profile of someone’s interests.

Although Brave already features a number of mechanisms designed to repel bounce tracking attempts, the company is now bolstering its arsenal with a new feature: Unlinkable Bouncing. Under this system, bounce tracking sites are still able to collect information about the user’s interests, but cannot connect that information with data collected on previous occasions.

The new Unlinkable Bouncing feature is currently available in early-access, but will roll out to all users with Brave version 1.37.

The fight against trackers

Although the objective of services like Brave is to shield against all predatory tracking techniques, doing so is effectively impossible as a result of the ever-changing nature of the landscape.

The relationship between Brave and stakeholders in the web tracking market can be compared to that between threat actors and cybersecurity specialists; advances on one side necessitate innovation on the other.

In a recent conversation with TechRadar Pro, CEO Brendan Eich explained that his team is monitoring constantly for chinks in the armor created by “sneaky” new tracking techniques.

“We’ve got an aggressive ongoing agenda, because privacy has an adversary: the trackers, data brokers and ad tech vendors. And they keep evolving; they are always trying new and sneaky ways to get around what Brave does,” he told us.

The latest Brave update is an example of this process playing out; the company has identified a method of tracking capable of weaselling through its existing protection and deployed an additional mitigation.

Specifically, Unlinkable Bouncing utilizes a capability called “first-party ephemeral storage”, which prevents websites from re-identifying users that visit on multiple occasions. The feature is said to be comparable to clearing browser storage each time someone exits a site, but more effective.

“Unlikable Bouncing is just the first application of our first-party ephemeral storage plans, and we’re excited to share more features with Brave users soon,” the company explained.

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Brave is now trying to dethrone Microsoft Teams and Google Meet

Brave Software is rolling out a series of upgrades for its privacy-focused video conferencing service, Brave Talk.

As explained in a new blog post, the headline addition is a new browser extension that allows users to attach Brave Talk links to Google Calendar invitations, in the same way as they might with Google Meet. The idea is to give people a simpler way to integrate Brave Talk into their regular working routine.

Beyond the browser extension, the company has also expanded the free version of its video conferencing service, which now supports unlimited video calls for up to four participants (up from two).

The premium version (costing $ 7/month), meanwhile, has received a number of new business-centric features as part of the update, from breakout rooms to emoji reactions, attendee polls and advanced moderation facilities.

Brave tackles video conferencing

Brave is perhaps best known for its web browser of the same name, which blocks both ads and tracking cookies, but the company is expanding rapidly in new product areas. For example, there’s now a Brave VPN, firewall, crypto wallet, news aggregator and search engine, all of which are said to be optimized for privacy.

Pitched as an alternative to video conferencing services operated by the likes of Microsoft and Google, Brave Talk is another member of this growing portfolio.

“Unlike other video conferencing providers, which can involve collecting and sharing user data without adequate transparency and control, Brave Talk is designed to not share user information or contacts by default,” Brave states.

“Brave Talk is designed to serve you, not track you, and is designed for unlinkability [whereby there is nothing that links a participant to a call]. This privacy protection carries through to the Google Calendar extension.”

For Google Workspace customers at least, the ability to add a Brave Talk link to a Google Calendar entry with ease will minimize the friction involved in switching service, a crucial factor in accelerating adoption.

The extension of the free service to include unlimited calls for up to four people, meanwhile, will make Brave Talk a perfectly viable option for anyone in need of a video conferencing service for occasional personal use.

The main caveat is that Brave Talk calls can only be hosted by someone that uses the Brave browser, which currently holds a comparatively tiny share of the market. The ability for Brave Talk to challenge the likes of Microsoft and Google in the video conferencing market, then, is tied to whether the company is able to challenge the same two rivals in the browser space too.

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The success of web browser Brave is a bad sign for Google – here’s why

Privacy-centric web browser Brave has surpassed 50 million active monthly users for the first time, the company has announced.

In a blog post, Brave says the milestone represents the fifth time the browser’s user base has doubled in as many years. The service also currently attracts more than 15 million daily active users, another high water mark.

Brave credits a range of new features and products for the continued growth, including an in-built crypto wallet and private search engine. But the company also acknowledged it has benefited from wider consumer trends.

“Users all over the world are looking for a private, safe and faster browsing experience, along with tools that give them independence from Big Tech. This long term and sustainable growth reflects that user desire,” said Brave.

A paradigm shift?

The uptake of privacy-centric browsers, VPNs, proxies, encrypted email and other privacy tools in recent years hints at a shift in attitudes that could have major ramifications for the largest technology companies in the world, whose businesses are predicated on the collection of vast amounts of data.

Since the Snowden leaks and Cambridge Analytica scandal in particular, public awareness of the importance of data privacy has risen steeply. Generally, consumers are more wary about the information they share with Big Tech companies, and more savvy about how their information is used and monetized in the data economy.

We suspect this trend may begin to register more clearly in the web browser market soon. Currently, Google Chrome dominates the space with a 63.8% market share, followed by Apple’s Safari (19.6%) and Microsoft Edge (4%). However, privacy-centric services operated by smaller players are beginning to gather steam.

Although Brave’s 50 million-strong user base represents just 1% of the market, based on data on the total number of web users from Statista, its rate of growth will give the likes of Google pause for thought. And that’s despite the inherent inconveniences; this writer can attest that Brave frequently breaks website functionality as a result of its no-tolerance policy on cookies.

Although Google has made a show of improving its privacy practices and planning for the demise of third-party cookies, proposed alternatives like FLoC have been panned by privacy advocates, who say the solutions create as many problems as they solve.

There is also plenty of evidence Big Tech companies still cannot be trusted to protect the interests of users. This week, for example, both Google and Facebook were slapped with significant fines for cookie-related breaches of EU privacy laws. The patience of consumers is surely wearing thin.

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