You Are Not A Product: Johnny Ryan, Brave, GDPR and Ted Nelson’s dream

Readers may have recently seen news that the Brave browser has jointly filed complaints against Google relating to their sharing of personal data. Recently I posted a link to NIthin Coca’s guide to fully quitting Google. A friend of mine, Johnny Ryan, has been key to this in his role as Chief Policy & Industry Relations Officer at Brave.

A little before this complaint, Johnny participated in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) some highlights of which are featured here.

There is much to chew on on the wide range of policy issues and privacy issues that our internet usage enmeshes us in. I liked especially this exchange:

u/Niels001: What are your dreams for Brave and BAT? Why did you join Brave?

JR: Hypertext was invented by Ted Nelson in the 1960s. Part of his dream was that everybody who contributed to the interconnected latticework of hypertext documents would be rewarded by those who perused them. People would drop tiny “bread crumb” like payments behind them as they flitted from item to item. It is a beautiful vision.

But this aspect of Nelson’s great dream was never realized at scale because these tiny micro payments were not practical. This is why BAT excites me. It may finally allow us to realize part of Nelson’s vision.

I do not see a better place to work today.

BAT is the Basic Attention Token, an open source, decentralised ad exchange platform developed by Brendan Eich, founder of Brave and before that Mozilla.

The headline that Brave users may get up to $70 annually for looking at ads may sound a bit clickbaity, but it has a wider implication:

Brave’s BAT integration offers one of the easiest on-ramps to cryptocurrency markets that the industry has seen. Everyday web users who might be nervous about investing portions of their paychecks into crypto, now have the option of earning BAT for free, just for browsing the web as they normally do. Then they will have the choice of holding onto the BAT, cashing it out, or dumping it into an exchange to start trading other coins and tokens.

As Johnny’s quote above indicates, all this has – or should have – a deeper philosophical meaning than simple consumption and passive attention. There is an awful passivity to online culture now, relative to the early days. As the tagline of Brave’s site says, “You are not a product.” But if you don’t want to be a product, don’t act like one. I urge readers to install and use Brave for themselves.

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