Having rebelled against Google's web hegemony with a privacy-focused browser and a crypto token-based monetization system, Brave Software opened a second competitive front on Tuesday with the beta launch of Brave Search.
Brave has managed to attract more than 32 million monthly active users to its alternative browser that's similar to Google Chrome – being based on its open source Chromium foundation – but is still distant enough on the privacy continuum to avoid being overshadowed.
"Brave Search is the industry’s most private search engine, as well as the only independent search engine, giving users the control and confidence they seek in alternatives to big tech,” said Brendan Eich, CEO and co-founder of Brave, in a statement.
"Unlike older search engines that track and profile users, and newer search engines that are mostly a skin on older engines and don’t have their own indexes, Brave Search offers a new way to get relevant results with a community-powered index, while guaranteeing privacy."
Brave Search isn't intended to replace Google Search, at least at this point, but it does represent an attempt to convince internet users that search can function well without surrendering data.
Eich is throwing down the gauntlet not just to Google, but also to the likes of DuckDuckGo, another company that's made headway against the search giant by promoting privacy.
DuckDuckGo says it uses some 400 different sources to inform its search index, though its reliance on Microsoft Bing became evident when the disappearance of a politically sensitive image in Redmond's product earlier this month was reflected in DuckDuckGo and other alternative search engines.
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Brave Search uses on its own community-generated index, based on the Tailcat search engine acquired from unsuccessful Chrome-challenger Cliqz. But it also provides a way to make queries though Google, Bing, and other search services in the form of a "Find elsewhere" section below its homegrown search results list.
In its current form, Brave Search works pretty well. The Register has not had the opportunity to test it thoroughly but we found it returned useful results for most queries we tried.
In one case where we felt motivated to take our query elsewhere, the Brave Search results page's "Find elsewhere" link presented the following prompt seeking permission to submit the keywords to Google: "For queries where Brave Search is not yet refined, your browser will anonymously check Google for the same query, mix the results for you and send the query data back to us so we can improve Brave Search for everyone."
Brave presents its independent index as a point of differentiation with DuckDuckGo, though it may not be 100 per cent independent. The company explains that it relies on anonymized contributions from its community to improve its search results.
"However, there are types of queries, as well as certain areas such as image search, for which our results are not relevant enough yet, and in those cases we are using APIs until we are able to expand our index," the company said in its Brave Search announcement. "The Brave Search independence metric is a progress bar, and our goal is to achieve greater independence and better quality without compromising the privacy of our users."
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And to distinguish itself from Google Search, Brave claims to provide privacy and anonymity when searching, and transparency in how its search results are ranked. Presently, Brave offers a Transparency Report, though the page does not yet provide a way to review its "community-curated open ranking models" [PDF], said to be coming soon.
In time, however, the distance between the two companies may dwindle – Brave isn't currently serving ads in its search results but the plan is to offer both ad-free paid search and free ad-supported search that will include private ads that share revenue with ad viewers via Brave Attention Tokens (BAT).
Asked how Brave intends to deal with efforts manipulate its search results – a persistent issue for Google – Josep Pujol, chief of Search at Brave, told The Register in an email that abuse hasn't been a problem yet.
"But we do expect bad actors to try to alter rankings, from SEO game players to censors," he said. "We do have some tech in the pipeline based on prior work at Cliqz to prevent data pollution [PDF]. Also, it is worth noting that Brave is already solving this kind of problem effectively in the form of anti-fraud for our private ad ecosystem."
Pujol, however, did acknowledge that Brave has to deal with index pollution, just like everyone else.
"We try to have the cleanest index possible, where only Web content that people engage with is indexed," he said. "However, objectionable content is also present in our index, including child sexual abuse material. For such problematic content, we scrub at query-time via filters, and we are working hard to strengthen them."
At this point, it's still too early to tell how Brave Search will be received, but Pujol promised there will be queries per month (QPM) statistics added to Brave's transparency page in the future.
"Right now we are in the first day of public beta and in heavy building mode, but we were pleased to see over 100,000 people join our waitlist for the preview release and testing phase leading up to the beta," he said. ®