I Was Horrified at How Many Ads the New Brave Browser and VPN for iOS Blocked

Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Between a minefield of ads and trackers, browsers have added a number of security and privacy features over the past few years. Brave is the latest, announcing today that it’s partnering up with Guardian to launch a new version of its iOS browser, Brave Firewall + VPN.

The name pretty much sums it up. Brave Software and Guardian are basically Wonder Twinning it up for a privacy-first mobile browser for iPhones and iPads with its own built-in VPN. The companies say you should get a safer, more private browsing experience that’s also three to six times faster as it “combines privacy with a blockchain-based digital advertising platform.” Brave says in its press release that the VPN and firewall will work not only for the Brave app, but also for any other app on a user’s phone or iPad.

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The way it works is the Brave Firewall + VPN app sends a user’s mobile traffic via an encrypted VPN to Guardian’s servers. There, apps that secretly track data will be identified and that activity will be blocked. You’ll still get to use those apps, as well as visit the sites you want as intended. The companies also claim that this method will not require or retain any user information. Instead, they say the app will use a “pseudonymous digital receipt” via the App Store to give users VPN access while using “randomised, rotatable EAP identifiers to connect to VPN servers.” Sure! Supposedly, the end result is meant to allow users to connect to VPN servers without either Brave or Guardian learning anything about your identity.

Screenshot: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

I got to try an early access version of Brave Firewall + VPN on my iPhone and can confirm that it is Very Zippy compared to both Safari and Chrome. I never thought either of those browsers was particularly slow on my phone, but the difference in speed was noticeable. I visited a few of my favourite sites and then was promptly horrified when it told me that in about 3 minutes of browsing, it had blocked 107 ads and trackers and given me 2 HTTPS upgrades. Supposedly, this saved me five seconds of my life.

I will say I appreciated the ability to go to a site I love that decided to go all-in on a crap mobile experience and actually read the damn site. It was also “fun” to take a look into which sites I visited that were the most egregious when it came to ads and trackers. It was educational, to say the least.

In an ideal world, Brave Firewall + VPN would be free and we would all revel in the ability to browse speedily, securely, and private. Alas, we don’t live in an ideal world. Sadly, it is a premium feature and you must subscribe for either $US10 ($14) a month, or $US100 ($141) per year. (Though you do get a 7-day free trial.) The upside is a subscription will allow you to use the firewall on up to five devices. Another bummer is that Brave Firewall + VPN is, at least for now, iOS only. That said, Brave did say availability on other platforms would come “later this year.”