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Basic Attention Tokens – a User Centric Model for Online Advertisement?

With the focus on human attention as a valuable resource and the relentless fight for capturing and keeping users’ attention, one could ask why users themselves are not directly compensated for their attention? Why is it the platform providers and not the “attention providers” (the users) that get rewarded?

Today, free online services are designed to nudged and influence people into using their platform to collect user data and sell advertisements. Once the platforms have captured people’s attention it becomes a valuable commodity that can be traded and sold. This creates a system where platforms are incentivised to manipulate users into becoming addicted to their platforms and accept data profiling. In the current system, users are subjected to privacy loss and manipulation, they also face high load time, high data costs, malvertisement and shorter battery life. According to Basic Attention Token white paper “… the average users end up paying up to $23 a month to download ads, trackers, scripts and other related data.”

Publishers also suffer in the current advertisement ecosystem as third-party players providing market analysis and online platforms for advertisements takes a good chunk of the revenue. From each middleman in the transaction the publisher lose revenue.

Skip the Expensive Middleman
The advertisement ecosystem consists of users, publishers, advertisers and middlemen. What if the middlemen could be skipped so advertisers instead would pay users directly for their attention in an opt-in privacy protecting system? Some people are working on that idea.

The Brave browser have launched blockchain-based tokenized system that allows Basic Attention Tokens (BAT) to be paid directly to users and publishers. When an advertisement is made a token is “connected to it”. When a user gives attention to the advertisement the token is “unlocked” and hereafter shared directly between the user, the publisher and the browser (in this case Brave). Users can currently donate their tokens to their favourite content creators but in the future such tokens might be used to:

  • access premium content,
  • share content with friends,
  • access right to comment on content,
  • rank content like “thumbs-up/thumbs-down”, and
  • purchase digital goods (such as high-resolution photos or onetime use publisher applications).

This advertisement ecosystem will support advertisers, content creators and publishers as less of the revenue will go to middlemen. It will also create better reporting on and analysis on user behaviour, as it is collected directly in the browser and not by third parties. The data is encrypted and keep on the device only based on Zero Knowledge Proof principles to shield the identity of users and protects their privacy. Lastly, the system rewards users for their attention while at the same time improve the performance on their devices.

It is yet to be determined how users can use basic attention tokens. This system can create more revenue for publishers while also rewarding users for their attention, but one could also imagine a system where privileged people can afford to pay for content while less-privileged people will have to trade in their attention and time. If one can pay for the right to comment or rank content, the system could also allow wealthy individuals (or whales in the system) to dominate which content is produced – as has been seen in the blockchain-based social network Steem. Furthermore, the network needs to be established, before it has any real value to advertisers, publishers and users. But overall basic attention tokens provides an interesting opprtunity for changing the current advertisement ecosystem.

Signe Agerskov is researching blockchain ethics at the European Blockchain Center.