Back in 2009, before Bitcoin was invented, I talked about a world with an internet that had no login button. The idea was that, with open standards and open technologies built right into the browser you would be able to visit site-to-site on the internet and each website would know exactly who you were, and there would be no reason to log you in. At the time there were open standards like “Information Cards”, which could be stored right inside the local client (aka browser), identifying you as a user, authenticating automatically with the website, no unencrypted credentials passed in the process, and only YOU would have the data stored on your device. That was 10 years ago! As a user on today’s web you don’t own your data. When you visit Facebook, your profile information, the conversations you participate in, and even the websites you visit (via a pixel they give to publishers) all get stored somewhere on Facebook’s massive server infrastructure. This is how they make money! Google operates the same way. YOUR privacy is the goldmine of the current internet ecosystem. And you have no control over it. This is what a new cryptocurrency token called “Basic Attention Token” or BAT, along with the browser Brave aim to solve, and why I think they’re incredibly valuable!

BAT, written by the creator of JavaScript, and founding team members of Mozilla and Netflix, is an open protocol based on this new “peer-to-peer internet” I’ve been preaching about for 5 years now. It uses technology from the cryptocurrency Ethereum to, basically, make it so that advertisers do not need middle-man services like Facebook and Google to deliver their ads directly to users. BAT aims to take the middleman and any storage of your personal privacy data out of the picture, so the only place this data gets stored is cryptographically, encrypted on a public ledger that only you can decrypt.

Using “Proof of Attention” as a Cryptocurrency Reward for Sharing, and Consuming Ads

BAT’s strategy for adoption is really smart (no pun intended, considering it was written as smart-contracts on the Ethereum cryptocurrency blockchain). In typical blockchains and other cryptocurrencies and tokens, most aim for “proof of work” to identify without doubt that an encrypted entry on a public ledger is not counterfeit and that the transaction of giving something from one individual to another indeed actually happened. The “work” in that case is often the transfer of one thing (often currency like Bitcoin) from one person to another. Large, power-hungry and electricity-sucking servers called “miners” figure out and authenticate this proof-of-work, and the owners of the miners are rewarded in cryptocurrency like Bitcoin for participating in the ecosystem.

In the case of BAT, they are seeking a new concept they are calling “proof of attention”. Instead of verifying ownership through miners, the currency instead rewards end users and publishers for anonymously helping the public ledger identify attention of the user on particular things they are interested in. They have also coded into BAT’s peer-to-peer codebase random BAT tokens that they award to users the more they use the platform, encouraging users to use the Brave (which I’ll talk about later) browser and populate BAT coins into the ecosystem. It should also be noted that BAT also has real-world value! It’s currently selling for around $.50 on many of the major cryptocurrency exchanges (and is supported in the Jaxx wallet).

Introducing The Browser for the User-Controlled (and Peer-to-Peer) Internet – This is Only a Start!

BAT’s strategy is built on the arms of a browser, built by the same engineers and founding team, called Brave. Brave aims to be THE browser focused entirely on giving the user back entire control of their privacy and data. Brave, by default, blocks all 3rd party ads on all websites, and disables a lot of tracking data like pixels. As an advertiser I should be scared to death about this, but I’m not, and I’ll explain later. The “middle-men” like Facebook and Google will be most disrupted by this technology.

Brave also launched integration with BAT platform so that now publishers and users can get paid, directly by advertisers, as they use the publisher’s website. All the publisher needs to do is get verified with Brave (it seems to me this part of the process isn’t entirely distributed – my hope is even this gets put on some sort of distributed platform in the future, maybe similar to Namecoin?), and then users can opt into giving a “tip” in BAT to that publisher for every time they visit the website. They also just integrated support for Youtube channels, so if you’re frustrated about the new Youtube publisher changes this could be a new way for your channel to make even more money than before, cutting Youtube out of the picture. That’s right – you get everything. Youtube gets nothing! (unless they decide to authenticate with BAT as well)

So let’s say I visit staynalive.com, spend 10 minutes on this site (because doesn’t everybody?), and perhaps even buy something (like the crazy deal I’m doing on consulting for January this year wink wink – ask me if you want to pay in BAT!). The browser, with your BAT tokens stored, can automatically “tip” StayNAlive.com some BAT (because you like it so much), and at the same time, your visit to the website, time on site, and other data (they haven’t been clear yet on what that is – as an open platform I’m guessing it’s published somewhere though – it’s clearly not perfect yet) get encrypted, stored on a public ledger, and while you know that data is owned by you, no one else does – not even the advertisers. Advertisers will be able to search the public ledger however, target ads to your public key (and others) because you match very specific criteria that the Brave browser detected, and you’ll make more BAT tokens. I also assume you’ll have some level of control over the ads you see down the road.

What Can I Do as an Advertiser with Brave and BAT?

It’s not entirely clear how advertisers can get involved in this yet. I haven’t had enough time to research. Brave itself is open source though, and I’m sure the code could be searched. BAT, the ledger storing these transactions for attention, is also completely open, and peer-to-peer. It’s also not entirely clear how users will interact with advertisers. The whitepaper for BAT can be found here though and you can definitely see the vision.

Advertisers should be excited though – this means they (the advertisers) pay less in the end due to the removal of the middle man, who normally would add their (the middleman’s) own charges to view ads. This also means they get even more strongly-targeted ads, Minority-report style (see my presentation on this at LDS Business College), hitting their audience and more data delivered back to them, but this time in a format that the users have 100% approved, given their permission, and the user even benefits from receiving that information without giving up their privacy to ANYONE. It’s win (advertiser)-win (publisher)-win (user)!

More Evolution Towards a Peer-to-Peer, User-Controlled Internet

I’ve shared other use-cases where entire e-commerce and sharing economy systems are moving to peer-to-peer networks like Origin (which goes to ICO later this year and you’ll be able to use!). I’ve talked about a future of a peer-to-peer internet powered by blockchain-like technology. We’re continuing to see this evolve, and with Brave and BAT, now we have a browser and means to protect privacy and personal data in a distributed internet ecosystem.

With the storage of personal data at the browser, instead of server level, that takes a HUGE chunk of data needing to be stored off of the internet that we were previously reliant on in the old client-server internet model. Brave, and BAT together and perhaps even future technologies that will work with the Brave browser (my hope is that it works more, by default, with MetaMask, which comes bundled with Brave as an extension, and allows you to browse the Ethereum network just as though it were a peer-to-peer internet – I’ll write more on that later) show just a glimpse of what we see a future p2p internet looks like. We’re not within decades of seeing this now – we’re within 5 years of an entirely new, blockchain or similar peer-to-peer crypto, public ledger-based, internet coming to shape. Mark my words.

As an advertiser, this technology makes me really excited! I plan to, as soon as they start allowing advertisers into the platform (hopefully they keep this process distributed as well), start experimenting with this and seeing if there are immediate opportunities for the brands I represent. This takes paid ads from being just social or search ads to now being “contextual” ads, something that makes me really happy! I am currently writing this inside Brave and plan to use Brave 24/7 – this technology and BAT have my heart.