My worries and opinions to BAT (Basic Attention Token)

Image: print screen from BAT

Recently I’m trying to learn about Blockchain related technologies. While I’m trying LikeCoin, my friend told me to check out Basic Attention Token too. At a quick glance, I’ve found the idea of BAT quite interesting.

As Tim Wu written in The Attention Merchants, now everyone’s attention is being mined by advertisers. The advertising industry is digging too deep into everyone’s daily life. Probably Google and Facebook now understand myself more than I do! When I heard about BAT, I like the idea of revamp the online advertising industry and shield user behaviour information from those internet giant. People should have better control about their privacy while enjoying the internet. That may brings us a healthier network, and probably healthier future (because our life will only involved deeper in network when entering IoT era ).

After reading whitepaper and various materials, it seems there is a lot of barriers lying upon BAT. I started to worry that if this project can really achieve its objective. Below are my opinions on this project, wish to share with all of you.

Image: print screen from BAT

Worry 1: browsing bot

Back when I was in secondary school (about 20 years ago), there was a fever on “get paid for watching ads online”. Various programs launched, which displayed ads on user computer and claimed they could analysis user attention and rewards user with payment. Many schoolmates had tried these programs, and in fact there were many people trying to trick the program by bot. There were many bots programs spreading around, pretending to browse web page, and automatically click on ads in random duration. People just use bot programs to generate rewards without really using the computer. Eventually none of us got paid, because those companies always claimed there were oversea transaction difficulties.

When I heard of the principle of BAT, it recalls me those memories. If the user and publisher rewards program is getting popular, surely it will attracts hackers trying to fool the BAM algorithm. Numerous bot program may appears, pretend browsing BAT web sites, and get rewards as user and publisher. It may be a dilemma for BAT, that if Brave tries to scan user computer for suspicious bot program, seems it will somehow violate the objective of securing user privacy.

In future, if BAT is going to further expand and turning itself into a open protocol, it will need to develop fraud detection to prevent 3rd party implementation reports false user attention and getting rewards. BAT tries to minimise advertising fraud by an open architecture, and I guess at the same time BAT will need to fight against BAM usage fraud and scam in order to defense its own system.

Worry 2: Will advertiser really switch to BAT?

There is a Chinese idiom, saying “know yourself and your counter-part is the path towards victory”. As the objective of BAT is to revamp the advertising industry, we must ask ourselves, if we’re the advertisers, will we switch to BAT? Is BAT good enough compare to all those existing channels?

In my point of view, the key limitation of BAT is that it limit to web advertisement. Nowadays we all know that people use app more than direct website access. We use news agent app to get news directly pushed to mobile phone, rather than checking their web site time-to-time. We use email app but not web email interface. We install photo and multimedia sharing app, because some of them don’t even have an web page anymore. Advertisers choose to put ads on Google and Apple because they can put up their ads in apps in Android and iPhone. Surely web page ads still have significant market share, but I doubt if that is what we should work on if we’re looking at the future.

I believe that if BAT is to succeed, it must move forward and step outside simply web advertising. But then the next worry arises.

Worry 3: Where will be the battlefield of protecting our privacy?

The key selling point of BAT is that it protect our privacy from internet giants and all those unknown sniffers. Brave disallows 3rd party cookies and trackers, providing us a safer web experience. But still, people still spend many hours on Facebook, on Gmail, on Youtube, and these service providers have our user account details and still be able to directly collect and analysis our user behavior, and turns into advertising profit by putting up ads on web and app. Brave helps us to defend our privacy over those 3rd party tracking, but we can hardly defense ourselves if we are having direct interaction on internet giants platforms.

As the BAT whitepaper also stated, the growth of internet access using mobile device is very fast in recent years. The number of ad-blockers installed on mobile device already surpassed computers. On mobile, there are much more channels to collect user intent other than browser app. While BAT spend a lot of effort to protect our privacy from web environment, as users we need to understand that may not be the only dominating privacy battlefield in future.

Worry 4: User intent analysis capability

The advantage of BAT user intent analysis is that it is on browser side. It will be more efficient than web server side analysis, as BAT mentioned in the whitepaper. Here I guess the whitepaper missed one thing: there is another type of user intent analysis, which is equally powerful, or even more powerful than browser side analysis: the in-app analysis.

Social media app can trace every user behavior and analysis our interest. Media platform app can also trace our usage habit and build up their analysis database. Online retailers also build up Comparing the BAT browser side analysis, I can hardly say it is more powerful than what these platforms can do. Is there any special feature in BAT to make it compete with all these competitors?

The strength of browser side analysis is that users will use browser to enters all different kinds of web sites, but user may only use an app on particular topic. Besides these in-app analysis, there are also higher level app store analysis and mobile operating system analysis, the information it can grab and analysis will be even more powerful. Is there any special feature in BAT to make it compete with all these competitors?

Question 1: How will user intent information be exchanged?

One key concern of BAT is that how exactly ads are being posted, how will ads being selected and displayed on users who opt-in for rewarded ads. The security measurement of user intent information exchange algorithm is the key of protecting privacy. I tried to look up the internet for answers, but I only got a few lines regarding user intent exchange in Brave FAQ section.

We provide signals to the browser to help it make good decisions about what preferences and intent signals to expose to maximize user, publisher and advertiser value. Each ad request is anonymous, and exposes only a small subset of the user’s preferences and intent signals to prevent “fingerprinting” the user by a possibly unique set of tags.

From Brave FAQ

It says “We provide signals to browser”, but who is “we”? My understanding on BAT is that ads are decentralised using Blockchain, and there is no central server to maintain the ads system. BAT network don’t, and shouldn’t know which user has opt-in for rewards ads. I thought it would be individual browser to look up ads on Blockchain according to user intent.

Apparently my understanding on advertisment request data exchange flow is not correct, but I cannot found more explanation on this topic. I hope BAT can clarify the procedure, such that we can fully understand how our privacy are protected.

Question 2: Had BAT launch Chrome extension module?

When I am searching for information regarding BAT and Brave, I come up with a strange Chrome extension called “Brave Lion”. It’s logo looks like Brave, but it didn’t mentioned either Brave nor BAT from its description. I couldn’t link up the relationship between the publisher and official BAT community. 

Screenshot from chrome Web store

If my understanding is correct, from the official timeline and also whitepaper, BAT team hast released  plug-in for other browsers yet. I’m quite worry that if this extension is a counterfeit. From the Chrome Web store, it stated there are already 200,000 users installed this extension. If this extension is a fraud, I afraid the privacy of these users maybe in danger.

Epilogue

The concept of BAT is great, to take away middleman and let us keep our own privacy locally. I agree that protecting privacy will be our key concern when our daily life is entering the network. What I’m worrying is that nowadays our internet usage is much more than web pages. The digital era is changing rapidly. BAT may need to further expand its architecture in order to achieve the project goal.

Updates @ 22-Aug-2018:

BAT Community answered that the Chrome extension mentioned above is NOT official. For those who want an Ad-blocking extension, I would recommend to try some other extensions rather than using this ‘Brave Lion’, which suspect to be a counterfeit.


Also published on Medium.

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