Brave browser takes step toward enabling a decentralized web

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Brave has just taken a step toward supporting a decentralized web by becoming the first browser to offer native integration with a peer-to-peer networking protocol that aims to fundamentally change how the internet works. The technology is called IPFS (which stands for InterPlanetary File System), a relatively obscure transport protocol that promises to improve on the dominant HTTP standard by making content faster to access and more resilient to failure and control.

This explainer from TechCrunch offers a good overview of how the protocol works. But here’s the short version: while HTTP is designed for browsers to access information on central servers, IPFS accesses it on a network of distributed nodes. Vice likens it to downloading content via BitTorrent, rather than from a central server. You type in a web address like normal, and the network is able to find the nodes storing the content you want.

Benefits of the new approach include faster speeds because data can be distributed and stored closer to the people who are accessing it, as well as lower server costs for the original publisher of the content. But perhaps most importantly, IPFS has the potential to make web content much more resilient to failures and resistant to censorship.

Brave, which currently boasts 24 million monthly active users, has been an early supporter of IPFS, working on the standard since 2018. But with version 1.19 of the Brave browser releasing today, Brave users will be able to access IPFS content directly by resolving URIs that start with ipfs://. They can also opt to install a “full IPFS node in one click,” making their browser a node in the peer-to-peer network.

“IPFS gives users a solution to the problem of centralized servers creating a central point of failure for content access,” Brave CTO Brian Bondy said in a statement, adding that this gives Brave users “the power to seamlessly serve content to millions of new users across the globe via a new and secure protocol.”

IPFS project lead Molly Mackinlay adds that IPFS’s enablement of the decentralized web can overcome “systemic data censorship” from governments and Big Tech. “Today, Web users across the world are unable to access restricted content, including, for example, parts of Wikipedia in Thailand, over 100,000 blocked websites in Turkey, and critical access to COVID-19 information in China,” says Mackinlay, “Now anyone with an internet connection can access this critical information through IPFS on the Brave browser.”

This effort to make web content more resilient and unconstrained comes at a time when service and platform owners are facing tough choices about what content should remain online. Following the Capitol riot on January 6th, President Trump was silenced on both Facebook and Twitter, followed by the Parler app being pulled from both the Google and Apple app stores and Amazon withdrawing its centralized web services. A decentralized web enabled, in part, by IPFS would make that kind of control more difficult in the future.


resistant to censorship

Hmm…bucking the trend.

I don’t like this. We need censorship these days. Allowing hate speech and hateful content to be circulated over the internet in a decentralized fashion is dangerous. We must entrust control of the internet to Twitter, Facebook, Apple, and Google. They will continue to honorably moderate and filter anything that could pose a risk to us.

Pretty sure they’re more interested in blocking dictatorial censorship. Until the last couple years the crazies here in the US were just that, crazies that no one really listened to that much.

wow, suddenly censorship is a good thing when it’s on your side!
internet should be free, just because some people are not on your side it’s doesn’t mean to completely remove them.
I don’t need some big company decide for me what is good or bad, I have my own judgment.

Perhaps I was the only one who got the joke…

I got it also. I mean, it was pretty obvious if we’re being honest.

But to be fair, allowing social conservative, neo Nazi BS to float around social media like turds in the sewer isn’t exactly a normal person’s idea of a great usage time or a even a good use of a private corporation’s revenue (as you know, the private corps actually have to spend their own money publishing this so-con vitriol). So it’s understandable, on a human level, why there’s so much backlash against it.

I wonder what the equation is for content availability vs amount of access. Like, it gets difficult to use bittorrent when there is only a single seed (or at least that’s the way it used to work). If only a handful of people are "seeding", say misinformation videos using IPFS, how many people could they reach before streams started crapping out?

One of the core tenets of information technology is that information dies when it stops being shared.

In theory, this technology is compatible with that philosophy and would allow for organic growth without relying on the current systems which prioritize engagement for content delivery.

This system has a lot of potential, but still has many of the same downsides of our current content delivery system. Unless we move away from the ad based, engagement centric profit model, misinformation spread will continue.

Still, this is a cool technology. I just hope that the people working on it realize that the content delivery problem is only part of why the current tech giants are so dominant. People only fall for conspiracies because they find them engaging, not useful. We need to educate people to use the internet as a tool, rather than use the internet to change the way we socialize so that corporations can profit off it.

Sharing is kind of a different issue from the tech itself though. It’s pretty simple to setup a basic HTTP server (there’s been a few plug-and-play solutions and even a NAS can be opened up), but without marketing and search engines no one will ever find your little personal server IP-address.

We need to educate people to use the internet as a tool, rather than use the internet to change the way we socialize so that corporations can profit off it.

I agree with this so hard… but it’s assigning individual responsibility for a systemic issue.

It’s kinda like telling students in failing school districts to just take some responsibility and teach themselves at the local library. Yeah… that would help… but how many people are really going to do that? To fix large scale, systemic issues… you have to address the systems in play.

Unfortunately, so long as humans are social animals and we live under capitalism – there will be profits to be made off harmful internet practices.

(Disclaimer: Even without capitalism… there will always be shady shit. Hopefully we can scale it back by changing the capitalist incentive structure.)

Great point. I fully agree with you. I’ve read about some experts suggesting that we prohibit corporations from targeted advertising as it would eliminate the incentive structure that leads to engagement driven content delivery algorithms, but that sounded like it would be hard to convince American lawmakers. Having said that, the verge published an article recently where some lawmakers asked Facebook to move away from engagement based content delivery so maybe they’re not as against the idea of banning this practice.

BTW I’d love for us to move away from a capitalist system as it would quell many of these exploitative practices but we’d need more support from the younger generations to accomplish that so maybe someday lol.

This sounds suspiciously like Pied Piper…

My thoughts exactly. Bitchard Hendricks would like to have a word with Brave.

IPFS started in Feb 2015. So they must have moved pretty damn fast to "copy" Pied Piper…

… Silicon Valley premiered April 6, 2014.

But I do not believe decentralized internet was spoken about until quite a bit later.

Sounds like they were already pivoting to the cloud/internet in the first season.

"Cloud/internet" is not necessarily decentralized internet.

But my point stands. it’s still less than 12 months for the folks at IPFS to "copy", if they ever did copy.

This is the kind of thing I wanted the internet to evolve to. Now I’m not so sure.

We need to tackle misinformation as a global pandemic. Get experts and representatives of the people from around the world and draft rules around speech in the internet. What is allowed, what isn’t. Ensure governments are educating their citizens on how to properly discern misinformation, etc. Misinformation is clearly one of the largest existencial threats humanity has ever faced. We can’t let tech giants dictate the rules, nor any single government, as the potential damage from corruption is too great.

The same can be said about climate change. To be frank, I’m not sure we can pull either off.

It’s simple. Their are no rules and everything is allowed. This debate ended with Http:// which an censorship resistant version of twitter.

Yeah, misinformation is a massive problem. How do we help countries who have very little free speech but at the same time reduce misinformation, especially when it’s dangerous?

An extreme example, we wouldn’t want ISIS recruitment propaganda being advertised around, etc.

Starts in schools. Gotta teach reason and thinking skills. If more people actually did even a quick google/bing/duck search on half the shit they see on social media, they probably wouldn’t reshare it.

This. Misinformation is akin to the 3 church ladies in the XIX century spreading lies after mass, except on a global scale… because… Internet of course. Nobody ever fixed gossip, not even North Korea.

The only way to supress misinformation is by self reason, education, formation with emphasis on logic reasoning.

No censorship can really block misinformation, and worse, given enough time it will only serve to block unwanted free speech as the powers of censors become larger and more ingrained.

It does start there, though the issue we face now is how to survive long enough after waiting so long to be able start there. We are almost at the point where a fact is just an unpopular opinion.

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