Brendan Eich: JavaScript and cookies are not to be blamed

JavaScript creator and Mozilla co-founder and Brave Software CEO, loathes online advertising surveillance systems that loot users. He’s taking action to change it.

Brendan Eich is best known for creating JavaScript, but he also founded and runs Brave Software. He was also the creator of Brave and the Basic Attention Token. He was Mozilla’s CTO and helped to bring web browsers out from the dark ages.

Eich and I spoke recently about the sins in Big Tech, the failures of the web advertising model and how Brave, Basic Attention Tokens and Brave put users first. Eich and I also talked about euphoric crypto bubbles. Web3 foolishness. We also discussed the great promise of blockchains. And why corporate CEOs don’t code.

Matthew Tyson : First, I want to thank you for JavaScript. This language has been a key part of the web and has fueled many coding careers. Thanks for putting a stake in the heart of IE6. Okay, let’s move on to the next day.

To improve the interface between users, digital advertisers, you created the Brave Browser, and the Basic Attention Token. This interface is inefficient and has privacy flaws.

Brave permits the private and conscious disposition of advertising money by users via the Basic Attention Token. Do you think that is a fair summary? Do you mind explaining?

Brendan Eich –Online advertising has become a surveillance system. It robs users of their attention, rips publishers through high fees, non-transparency, and facilitates ad fraud. Our work at Netscape in the 1990s with JavaScript and cookies did not lead to this.

Brave offers an answer that puts users first. It removes conflicts between agent and principal interest. This is the most obvious problem in Chrome which tracks all its users across all tabs and windows, when they log in to any Google account. Brave was the first browser to block tracking by default. Chrome is still ahead of all other browsers when it comes to quality against emerging tracking threats. Google’s business model is no surprise.

Brave Shields (the icon of a lion at the right-hand end of the address bars) are automatically on. They block tracking scripts and isolate third parties to storage or network “partitions”. Keyed also by the first-party domain, they interfere with fingerprinting scripts and protect against other privacy threats. For more information about this baseline protection, users have absolutely rights to privacy features or privacy upgrades.

Brave’s opt in, client-side, private, client-side advertising and creator contribution system Brave rewards is underpinned by the Basic Attention Token. Clicking on the triangle-shaped BAT logo at the right end the Brave address bar will allow users to start receiving private ads. These ads credit them with BAT that they can claim with an custodian (Uphold Gemini, bitFlyer). By default, however, BAT is blind signature certificates. They are anonymously settled to creators by the user. The user can also configure monthly contributions towards, or “auto-contributes”, via browser-private and visit-time analysis.

Brave with BAT allows the user to participate in the attention economy that still funds the majority of the web and places the user first. 70% of gross revenue from private advertisements goes directly to the user. Users can keep their money or give it back. Without apologies, we place user choice and agency over publishers and third-parties. We are confident that users will support great creators despite the increase in both paid and advertising revenue models. We will continue to invent ways users can support creators anonymously and pseudonymously.

Tyson: Are you a CEO? Are you still able to code?

Eich Designed for home entertainment. My main job involves code-reading, but also at QA and bug finding, strategic levels, and evaluation of new cryptography systems and blockchain systems. There is also a lot management.

Tyson Bjarne Strroustrup, another language author, stated “Corporate policies can be directly hostile individuals with exceptional skills, initiative in technical matters.” Do you have any ideas on how to reduce the corporate creativity problem

Eich It resonated for me in my career, from SGI to Netscape. As those companies grew large and corporate, it was a great fit. Brave and Mozilla have allowed me to create my own job, work with others on innovative products and recruit others who agree with Bjarne’s sentiments. It’s been great, and I don’t regret avoiding corporate (now Big Tech!) options along the way.

Tyson : I was curious about the experience of creating a real-world blockchain. How much effort was required to build a real world blockchain (in comparison to creating a web browser or programming languages)?

Eich We didn’t need to create a blockchain as BAT launched on Ethereum as an ERC-20 token. Thanks to bridges like Wormhole, it is now on multiple chains. We were able to get to market faster and have the support of giants like Vitalik and Satoshi. (We also prototyped Brave Rewards for Bitcoin).

Tyson There’s been much discussion about AI and machine-learning replacing human coders. What do you think? Are you a real threat?

Eich Programming as a profession is not something I recommend, although better machine learning may speed up code development and introduce a new security attack surface.

Tyson: Where are the frontiers of programming languages and software development?

Eich I grew up in the systems research heyday of grad school, but it’s dead, as Rob Pike said over 20 years ago. With fruits like Rust, which I co-sponsored at Mozilla, the frontier seems to me to be the “second golden age” of programming languages. Reverse debugging is also possible now, for example rr or commercial products built on it. People who are willing to sacrifice soundness and use formal methods can now verify or find bugs in ways that were impossible in the 1980s.

These frontier settlements have evolved into new ecosystems that support new markets. Blockchains also have a nexus: It is mandatory to use formal methods to identify protocol bugs and smart contracts. Zero Knowledge proofs require mechanized verification as the third word makes clear. I would like to see more programming language leverage and rigor within devops. This is something that a few startups are doing.

Tyson Read more about Zero Knowledge Proof . In a recent interview, you said that the “Web3” scene is similar to the “Wild West” days during the dotcom boom. There is a lot to be optimistic about, but there’s also plenty of room for foolishness.

Despite the dot-bomb of late ’90s, the web has proved its worth. Are you seeing a crypto bubble that is followed by a correction and a more stable role in crypto-based services?

EichCryptocurrencies that are expressed in pairs with fiat currencies (mainly the US Dollar) are volatile. Stablecoins can fail because of design flaws or unexpected Shelling point. Due to the volatile political and global environment we are living in, this is likely to continue. Boom and bust cycles are when central banks and their allies create them. They tend to last for about a decade. The “seasons” of crypto can last from years to half-years. These will equilibrate with time regardless of what regulators do.

Whatever happens, cryptocurrency/blockchains/DLT will be around for the long-term. To make it easy or fast to reverse, too many wealthy people have been betting on this space, mostly to hedge against fiat currency issues.

Tyson What do you consider blockchain’s greatest promise of success?

Eich I agree with Moxe when it comes to cryptographic protocols for client/server-based products. This is to ensure properties like anonymity (activity that isn’t linked to any identifier).

Blockchains are great for situations where too many counterparties can create too much risk or where peers can meet on the network directly. An auditor for the BAT smart contract was paid directly on Ethereum by us. No wire fees or delays, and no bank nonsense (the gas fee was very low back then).

The promise of blockchain to me is linked to Brave’s user-first agenda. Network effects create first- and second-place winners as well as oligopolies, monopolies and monopolies. Web2 (or Web 2.0 in its original form) winners automatically collect user data to optimize their search engines, for example.

This makes users feel like they are being abused and used to steal their attention-based data. It also creates a treasure trove for hackers to exploit and ad fraudsters who cheat. This centralized data collection flaw has led to privacy problems, trolls and bullies, as well as psyops and other Big Tech maladies.

Web3 must protect user data at its ultimate edge, which is your devices and supercomputers on your lap. These can then connect directly or indirectly via the cryptographic protocols Moxie described to Web3 servers and blockchain nodes that don’t collect data to create abusive market power. These people hold power at the edges of p2p, and cryptographically secured client/server networks.

This vision reverses the pathetic value hierarchy of Web2 Big Tech powerhouses (Google, Meta, etc.). While they may claim to care about the users, these Web2 Big Tech powers (Google, Meta, etc.) must also serve their shareholders, ad buyer, publishers, third party ad tech vendors and other less respectable actors (nation-states and three-letter agency, for instance). It will be a battle, but the users will win.

Tyson What advice do you have for entrepreneurs and people who are pursuing startup dreams?

Eich History, including books from the pre-WWII period when the managerial “new” class emerged from Vannevar Bush and became an unreliable narrator, especially of its rise to power. History is not a repeat. Future will be different, and it may seem more like the distant past than those in power can admit.

Study heterodox economics because the mainstream type (the “dismal sciences”) is full courtiers and mountebanks. There are many schools of thought. There is no one right way. It is important to study businesses and firms in order to identify what to avoid (as Bjarne Strroustrup put it, in my instance).

Follow the example of Steve Jobs and find user pain points market leaders who have become complacent and ignored them or neglected them. Even if they are unable to provide a solution or describe the problem in detail, users often recognize that they have a low-level, painful, or itchy problem.

Assist users. They create new products and services. Without them, you can’t win.

Tyson: Investors are also available. What is the most striking thing about a company to you?

Eich I am not a great investor but a friend introduced me to Burton Klein. His typology rings true. If you find a Klein Type 1 company that is investable and going places, then invest. We all have shoulda, coulda and shoulda stories about Type 1 and Type 2 companies we witnessed launch like rockets. The Type 4s are often too political.

Tyson What do you consider “success?”?

EichTo have contributed to a better world. “We are all in this together”