AMA with Johnny Ryan

Welcome to the third post in our series of BAT Community-run AMAs.

The ongoing AMA series on Reddit is a six-month long event that features various guests from the Brave and BAT teams. The goal of the series, which will run until January 2019, is twofold: to give fans of the project an opportunity to interact directly with team members, and to give team members—especially those who operate largely behind the scenes—a chance to share their insights and offer the community a window into their work.

The most recent AMA took place on September 5th with Dr. Johnny Ryan, Brave’s Chief Policy and Industry Relations Officer. Over the course of the AMA, Johnny fielded both pre-submitted and live questions from Redditors concerning a variety of topics such as the GDPR, the state of the digital advertising industry, and what he believes the evolving regulatory landscape means for BAT and Brave.

Highlights can be found below, with a link to the full AMA at the bottom of this post.

The next AMA will take place on Wednesday, September 19th, and will feature Sergey Zhukovsky and Joel Reis, both Senior Software Engineers at Brave who work primarily on the mobile versions of the browser.

For the full list of upcoming BAT Community AMAs through January 2019, see below.

u/cokechan: Why is it important that Brave have a Chief Policy & Industry Relations Officer?

Brendan and I discussed many reasons.

The most important is to help shape the global market and policy environment. This is fundamental to Brave's future, and to the future of the web.

I spent part of my career at a policy think tank, which taught me to appreciate the burden on lawmakers when they consider whether and how to regulate in the online media industry. I hope I can help lawmakers make better decisions.

Here is an example of an issue where Brave's voice on policy issues is important. In July, Brave wrote to the governments of each of the twenty eight Member States of the European Union to urge them not to abandon important privacy protections, such as the prohibition on cookie walls. We have since engaged with several of these Governments one-on-one, at their invitation.

Lawmakers have been told by the ad tech industry that tracking is necessary for websites to earn advertising revenue. This is not the case, and Brave has to make that clear.

u/Scoobytwo: Do you see the Brave / BAT ecosystem growing and gaining favorability because of the expanding regulatory landscape?

Yes. Most definitely.

Advertisers need safe places to spend their marketing budgets. There are few of these.

And none offers the relevance (euphemism for targeting) of Brave Ads.

u/StrosPartisan: By eliminating various middlemen, Brave's approach to advertising would seem to offer an opportunity to help rid the web of clickbait ads and fake news—at least for Brave users. Is that a correct assessment?

My understanding, however, is that many reputable websites were complicit in spreading this co-called "chum" because they wanted the incremental ad revenue. ( "Without these ads, there wouldn't be money in fake news." )

I'm very curious to hear Dr Ryan's views on all of this, and whether Brave has thought about what types of advertisers it will engage with, and whether it can/should reject certain ad content from the catalogues that will be loaded in our browsers.

First, the person using Brave is the first filter of quality. A user can decide whether or not a website they have visited receives BAT. This is likely to favour worthy publishers.

Beyond this, as you rightly highlight, there is a troubling oddity of the online media market that Brave's approach can correct.

“Programmatic” or “behavioral” advertising enables an advertiser to show an ad to a person who is visiting a worthy site, and then show that same person ads at a far lower cost afterward on low rent sites. So the audience of a site that invests significant resources to produce interesting material is identified again on click bait sites where it can be bought far more cheaply. Were I a publisher I would call this theft of my audience.

This might seem like good news from the advertisers' perspective, but there are two problems. First, showing an ad on low rent sites is likely to be less effective. Second, 50%-70% of their marketing budget goes on "ad tech tax" to pay ad tech companies. (Example: when The Guardian​ bought ads on its own site through an auctioning system for behaviorally targeted ads, it received only 30% in revenue of the sum it paid as a buyer.)

This is bad news for publishers and for advertisers. And it gets worse.

Advertisers and ad tech companies have no idea how many of the “people” that they retarget on low rent sites are bots.

But despite this, programmatic advertising is growing in popularity all the time. And perversely, publishers and advertisers often defend it.

Brave Ads does away with this entire construct.

u/quint_essential: Do you believe something similar to the GDPR can be passed into law in the States sometime in the next couple of years, or do the big dogs (Google, FB, etc.) bark too loud back in the US for anything to actually be passed?

A surprising fact about the GDPR is that many of its provisions are startlingly similar to things that the US FTC has been calling for for the last decade.

The principles of the GDPR are very similar to principles agreed among developed nations, including the United States, as far back as 1980 (the OECD Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data).

So, the principles of the GDPR are not necessarily incompatible or alien to United States.

If there is a reaction against the widespread misuse of personal data in online advertising, and the microtargeting issues that appear to have arisen in the last presidential election, perhaps there may be political latitude to enact some robust law.

I do want to see tighter, tougher data protection law spread across the United States. This is a personal view that my colleagues at Brave may or may not share. Self regulation in the ad tech industry has failed. I think Cambridge Analytica proved that beyond argument.

Remember, Cambridge Analytica was once a darling of the ad tech industry.

Aside from the US situation, the global picture is heartening. Countries that account for 51% of the global GDP are enacting or have enacted data protection standards (aside from state security data use) that are intended to be equivalent to the GDPR.

That includes the EU (21% of global GDP), China (15%), Japan (6%), India (3%), Brazil (3%), South Korea (2%), and Argentina (1%).

u/StrosPartisan: Are you concerned that, seeing Brave as a threat, Google or various publisher websites will actively block Brave users? If so, can Brave rely on a legal response, or will it have to rely on commercial incentives for cooperation?

No, I do not think so.

The GDPR provides for a right to object to processing of personal data, and a person can exercise this "right to object" by - for example - installing Brave and switching on Brave shields.

The law may go further soon. The European Parliament’s draft text of the forthcoming ePrivacy Regulation (if enacted as written) will require all online services to respect privacy settings.

u/cokechan: It seemed like GDPR had a large impact once the regulations became active. But a lot of that has gone away now. Are regulators still taking a strict stance to GDPR compliance and how has it affected the ad tech industry in Europe?

Data Protection Authorities work in a very slow, considered manner. It takes months for them to investigate, engage in dialogue with a company under investigation, and then issue sanctions. Take a look at this interview some of the DPAs to get a sense of how they work, and how long it takes. It may be quite some time before you hear regulators issuing fines, or ordering companies to cease data processing.

It will come, however.

u/quint_essential: With the GDPR now in effect, do you view the EU market as one that Brave should target more aggressively once marketing is rolled out?

Not necessarily.

The GDPR applies to all businesses that offer services to people within the European market. This includes virtually every major business in the US and elsewhere.

Compliance leaders like to keep things simple, understandably. Many businesses are applying a common standard globally, rather than setting regional standards. That means that reputable advertisers are moving toward a higher standard of data protection across the globe.

u/shumwhere: In light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, is there a policy in place regarding political ads for when the Brave ad platform goes live? And if it is [generally] allowed, is there... will there be a vetting process to weed out the most egregious/malicious ones solely aimed at unethically manipulating the outcome of a race?

An advertiser that wants to run a Cambridge Analytica style of operation will find that Brave Ads cannot meet their needs.

The Cambridge Analytica scenario was possible because the company was able to process data about identifiable people. But Brave is private by design. This is a fundamental policy. The company does not have the capability of identifying a user, or of gathering personal data about a user. It can not do what Cambridge Analytica and Facebook have done.

u/ScoobyTwo: What can Brave / BAT take advantage of from a regulatory standpoint that its advertising competitors (Facebook, Google) can't because of restrictions?

Brave Ads do not expose advertisers to legal risk, but conventional ("programmatic,” a.k.a. "behavioral" or "RTB") advertising does.

On 5 June the European Court of Justice issued a ruling that means advertisers are on the hook for misuse of personal data in ad campaigns - even if the marketer never directly handles the personal data. I wrote about this at /marketers-adtech-risk/.

Programmatic/RTB ad tech is a "wild west" data protection free zone, as we recently elaborated in a letter to the IAB (an ad tech lobby group). So I think advertisers will not be eager to take on the risk it creates when they have better alternatives that are entirely risk free.

Something else to think of too is the current posture of the Duopoly. Facebook, Google, and most of the ad tech world is currently playing a game of chicken with the regulators. This will end badly for them, and for their investors. Already, Nielsen has been sued by an investor for not disclosing the severe risk that the GDPR represents to its business. I anticipate similar suits hitting all major players, in addition to complaints and regulators action.

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

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.

u/ScoobyTwo: Given your experience and expertise, what is your hope for the next 2-5-10 years via the Brave/BAT project?

Over the next two years I hope that what BAT and Brave do will give reporters working in newsrooms across the world a sense that there is a future for their business. If you have seen season 5 of The Wire, you have a sense of what is happening inside the great news reporting organizations' newsrooms. This must be reversed.

In ten years I hope for three things:

  • the large data brokers that trade our intimate data will be brought down to size, and tightly controlled.
  • worthy publishers will be rewarded for their work, and will sustain a vibrant web and a well informed body of citizens.
  • users’ rights over their personal data and privacy will be robustly enforced.

I joined Brave to make this happen. It is a big mission.

Read the full AMA here.

Read Brian Bondy’s AMA from August 22nd, 2018 here.

Follow the BAT Community’s Updates here:

Upcoming BAT Community AMAs:

September 2018
Joel Reis and Sergey Zhukovsky, Brave iOS and Android (September 19th)

October 2018
David Temkin, Chief Product Officer
Yan Zhu, Chief Information Security Officer

November 2018
Jonathan Sampson, Developer Relations Specialist
Alex Wykoff, User Research and Testing

December 2018
Ryan Watson and Kamil Jozwiak, DevOps and QA
CBO Brian Brown, Luke Mulks, Jan Piotrowski, and Brad Florsa from the Business Development team

January 2019
Tom Lowenthal, Security and Privacy Coordinator


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