Brave browser becomes a video chat contender

Brave, a privacy-focused browser, is adding a videoconferencing feature called Brave Together to compete with services like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet. Testing of the new feature has begun during a hot time for video chat as the coronavirus pandemic pushes work and personal communications online.

"Our focus is on no-friction private conferences for friends and family," said Marshall Rose, a Brave principal engineer, in an email. To use Brave Together, you launch a chat room from the Brave Together website and share its web address with an unlimited number of others. No account is required, and Brave doesn't log the activity.

Videoconferencing once was at the cutting edge of computing, but it's become more ordinary with fast broadband, open-source compression technology and chat standards like WebRTC. Doing video conferencing well, though, remains challenging. For example, Zoom use has surged in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Zoom got in trouble when new scrutiny revealed security problems and the fact that it doesn't encrypt video from one end of the chat to the other as it claimed.

The videoconferencing feature relies on open-source videoconferencing software called Jitsi. Jitsi doesn't offer end-to-end encryption, but its developers are working on it, and Brave will add support when it's mature.

Brave Together is available in the Nightly version of Brave, a frequently updated test edition, the company said in a tweet Tuesday. It's not available in Brave for Android phones or iPhones yet, and Brave doesn't yet have a schedule for a full release.

Brave released its first browser version in 2016 with ad-blocking built in, and 13.9 million people now use it monthly, Chief Executive and co-founder Brendan Eich tweeted earlier in May. That's a small fraction of the more than 1 billion people who use Google's Chrome, which accounts for 62 percent of web usage, according to analytics firm StatCounter. But it's a growing number, and Brave's can tout advantages like privacy policies ahead of most browsers.

Brave Together's advantages include convenience and security, Rose argued. And sharing a website address to launch a video chat is easy.

But if the recipient doesn't have Brave installed, using Brave Together becomes harder than just clicking a link. The more people you want on your video chat, the more serious that obstacle becomes. Similar network effects can help keep incumbents like Facebook powerful -- it's hard to convince all your social connections to move to some new service, and even harder for them to convince all their connections, too. But newcomers like Zoom have shown it's still possible to find a foothold.