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Brave private browser accused of deceiving users over affiliate links

brave web browser and bitcoin
(Image credit: grejak / Shutterstock.com)

The Chromium-based, privacy-minded web browser Brave has been accused of deceiving users by autocompleting typed-in URLs for cryptocurrency companies to versions of the URLs from which it gains affiliate revenue.

This is despite the fact that Brave positions itself as a "secure, fast and private web browser" that blocks "data-grabbing ads" and trackers. 

According to a report by Decrypt, the browser failed to notify its 15 million users that it may use the browser-based URL-autocomplete function to steer user to affiliate links.

The alleged deception was originally unearthed on Twitter by user Yannick Eckl, who said that he learnt that the the URL for cryptocurrency exchange Binance autocompleted to an affiliate link despite his not being made aware of this practice. 

He tweeted: “So when you are using the @brave browser and type in "binance[.]us" you end up getting redirected to "binance[.]us/en?ref=35089877" - I see what you did there mates”.

But the redirect links didn’t stop there. Dimitar Dinev, managing director of JRR crypto, and cryptocurrency reporter Larry Cermak found similar autocomplete functions leading to affiliate links on websites such as Coinbase, Trezor and Ledger.

Mea culpa

In a series of tweets, Brave Software CEO Brendan Eich apologised for the issue.

According to one of the tweets: “The autocomplete default was inspired by search query clientid attribution that all browsers do, but unlike keyword queries, a typed-in URL should go to the domain named, without any additions. Sorry for this mistake — we are clearly not perfect, but we correct course quickly.”

However, Eich explained the reasoning behind the links: “With Brave, we're trying to build a viable business that puts users first by aligning interests via private ads that pay user >= what we make on fixed fee schedule, no browser data in the clear on any of our servers, and so on. But we seek skin-in-game affiliate revenue too.

“This includes bringing new users to Binance & other exchanges via opt-in trading widgets/other UX that preserves privacy prior to opt-in. It includes search revenue deals, as all major browsers do. When we do this well, it's a win for all parties. Our users want Brave to live.”

Eich is famous for creating the JavaScript web-coding language that your browser is likely using right now, and for developing and creating the Firefox web browser and its parent company the Mozilla Foundation. 

He left Mozilla in 2014 after his past donations to political campaigns opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage became publicized, and founded Brave Software.

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