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Brave CEO Tells Senate that U.S. Needs GDPR-Style Data Privacy Rules

Last Updated March 4, 2021 3:45 PM
Josiah Wilmoth
Last Updated March 4, 2021 3:45 PM

The chief executive of cryptocurrency-funded web browser Brave has penned a letter to the U.S. Senate calling for legislators to adopt data privacy regulations comparable to those recently implemented in Europe.

Brave CEO Calls for a U.S. GDPR

Writing in the letter  dated Sept. 28 and addressed to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Brave CEO Brendan Eich said that Congress should adopt rules similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a regulatory framework that governs how businesses must handle the data of EU citizens.

Adopted in 2016 and implemented earlier this year, the GDPR purports to strengthen privacy regulations and give EU consumers more control over how their personal data is used.

Calling the GDPR “a great leveler,” Eich said that — contrary to the assumption that increased regulation favors incumbents — these policies will make it easier for startups to enter the marketplace since entrenched heavyweights will have a more difficult time collecting user data for one purpose and using it for another.

Arguing that “the character of GDPR is congruent with the United States’ understanding of privacy,” he wrote:

“As regulators broaden their enforcement of the new rules in Europe, the GDPR’s principle of ‘purpose limitation’ will begin to prevent dominant platforms from using data that they have collected for one purpose at one end of their business to the benefit of other parts of their business in a way that currently disadvantages new entrants. In general, platform giants will need ‘opt-in’ consent for each purpose for which they want to use consumers’ data. This will create a breathing space for new entrants to emerge.”

The Javascript creator and Mozilla co-founder further contradicted the narrative that privacy-hostile advertising policies such as behavioral tracking and micro-targeting are necessary for online publishers, alleging that the increasing prevalence of ad-blockers — he claimed that 615 million devices were using ad-blocking software as of late 2017 — demonstrates that this advertising model is fundamentally broken.

“Contrary to some of our industry colleagues, I believe that it is not tenable for any platform, publisher, technology vendor, or trade body, to claim that they must track people in order to generate revenue from advertising,” he wrote. “Trust will only return as the GDPR-like laws begin to curtail the online advertising industry’s worst practices.”

Cryptocurrency-Funded Brave Makes Strides

As CCN.com reported, Brave — which was bootstrapped through an initial coin offering (ICO) in 2017 — plans to upend the digital advertising model, in part through the use of the Basic Attention Token (BAT) cryptocurrency. The browser accomplishes this by blocking ads by default, then allowing users to opt-in to non-tracking ads that are based on browser-side intent signals. Publishers then receive a portion of that revenue that far exceeds what most third-party advertising services currently offer.

Eich’s letter to Congress is the latest jab in Brave’s all-out assault on tech conglomerate Google, who the upstart firm accuses of engaging in unscrupulous business practices related to advertising and data protection — or lack thereof.

Last month, Brave filed GDPR complaints against Google in Britain and Ireland, seeking to trigger an EU-wide investigation into the company’s data protection policies. If regulators identified GDPR violations, Google could face fines as large as 4 percent of its global revenue.

At the same time, Brave dumped Google as the default search engine for users in France and Germany, replacing it with the privacy-centric Qwant. While more symbolic than anything else, this particular move was perhaps designed to put Google on notice that, just as its browser and search engine disrupted earlier industry heavyweights, it may one day face a reckoning as well.

Though still a small player by market share, Brave has seen rapid growth in 2018 and now reports that its browser has 4 million monthly active users across all devices. The browser also received a favorable review from Popular Science, who listed it as an attractive alternative to Chrome and Safari.

Brave’s ascent has been aided by a recent update to Google Chrome, which security experts have said is anathematic to user privacy in that it now forces users to sign into their browsers when they log into a Google service such as Gmail or Docs.

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