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This browser will pay you in cryptocurrency to look at ads

A person browsing the internet on a laptopA person browsing the internet on a laptop

It may sound like a scam, but in fact it’s a new feature available to users of the privacy-focused internet browser called Brave. The payment comes in crypto—specifically Brave’s Ethereum-based Basic Attention Token (BAT).

BAT came into existence back in 2017, during the height of the ICO craze. In May of that year, the company behind Brave sold $35 million worth of BAT in less than a minute, becoming what CoinDesk calls “the original sold-out-in-seconds ICO.” Since then, though, while the token has been tradeable, it hasn’t been much more than a speculative asset. As ICO projects come under increased regulatory scrutiny, projects like Brave are under pressure to demonstrate that their tokens have real-world utility and haven’t just been a way to make millions of dollars in seconds.

Brave’s browser, which blocks ads and trackers, has been around since 2016, and already has nearly 6 million users. Up until now, it has let users donate BAT to websites and YouTube personalities, as a way of letting you directly fund the content you read or watch. Starting yesterday, users have a new option: to see Brave-specific ads that come in the form of desktop notifications instead of banner ads. If you opt in to see these ads, you’ll get paid. Brave says it will distribute 70% of its ad revenue to its users’ crypto wallets. That could work out to about $5 per month, CEO Brendan Eich tells Wired. According to CoinDesk, the company eventually plans to give publishers a tool to accept micropayments for individual posts rather than subscribing.

Hardly anything in the crypto world is cut-and-dried, however, and BAT is no exception. The browser won’t initially allow users to withdraw the funds they earn; they can only use it to pay publishers who accept it. Before it can allow withdrawals, Brave must establish a process for verifying a user’s identity. In the meantime, the value of the coin is bound to fluctuate; during the past year its price has ranged from around 13 cents to over 50 cents.

Does Brave really need its own token to work? Will regulators really see BAT as a security? Will users and publishers really want to be paid in and hold a volatile cryptocurrency? These kinds of vexing questions are par for the course with projects that raised money via ICOs. But the bigger idea here—using a blockchain to let users establish a new kind of financial relationship with publishers and advertisers—seems compelling enough to stick around in one form or another.

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