The User-Agent string is the name that web browsers and other web clients send to web servers to identify their make and model to the server. This data is primarily used for statistical and troubleshooting purposes. The Brave web browser isn’t brave enough to have their own User-Agent and instead tries to camouflage as Google Chrome.
Brave is a very opinionated web browser. This makes it easy to reliably detect it even without a unique User-Agent, and I’ll spend most of the article advocating for why Brave should have their own User-Agent. You can skip to the last two sections if you’re only interested in the detection code.
Brave had a User-Agent of its own in the first few months of its existence, but removed it in . The history books (git commit logs) show that Brave removed the “Brave/Version” component from their User-Agent string to make it more difficult to fingerprint the browser.
Just days before the removal, Brave Software had attracted the ire of the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) and were understandably worried that publishers would begin targeting and blocking their User-Agent over Brave’s plans to replace publisher ads with their own ads. The Drum has the details on this.
It’s quite easy to detect ad-blocking extensions, and few (if any?) publishers actively block visitors who use this type of software. There are several other niche web browsers that block ads by default and also set their own unique User-Agent. I haven’t found any indications of publishers actively blocking any of these browsers even on a small scale.
I’ve found over 21 easily detectable characteristics which are unique to Brave, and it only took me half an hour to discover and test these. I’m assuming there are many more methods.
Most of these unique characteristics stem from Brave’s efforts to make it harder to uniquely fingerprint individual users. Which I’m all for. I don’t believe there are any legitimate reason to fingerprint individual users. This, combined with behavior specific to Brave’s ad-blocking implementation, makes it easy to fingerprint the Brave browser itself.
It’s difficult to design a browser that doesn’t allow for fingerprinting of its users while also not making itself uniquely distinct from its upstream browser. Just ask the Tor Browser project.
The User-Agent is a free promotional tool
How are websites supposed to know that the Brave browser is popular and that they should consider signing up for the Brave Payments platform?
Many web publishers are in desperate need to diversify their income streams, and Brave can held them achieve that at practically no deployment cost to the publisher. However, why would they even bother to do so? When they check their access logs, they’ll see that Brave has 0 users.
Users of other web browsers are promoting that web browser and advocating for the website to test and ensure compatibility. Brave users fly under the radar as Google Chrome users, so websites might never realize that they’re popular among the Brave user community.
Brave Software asks web publishers to help promote their web browser but doesn’t provide the tools publishers require to run and measure an efficient promotional campaign for a web browser. You never see ads for the Google Chrome browser when you’re already using Google Chrome but users of any other web browser knows only too well that ads for Chrome are everywhere on the web.
Every browser should have its own User-Agent
The point of this article was meant as an argument for Brave to adhere to the established etiquette and protocol among web browsers: use your User-Agent!
There are no independent and verifiable counts of how many people use Brave. (Well, I count them — but my sample size is quite small.)
Brave should at the very least share their User-Agent with their verified publishers. These are the same websites Brave asks to help it promote the Brave browser. The Brave browser already knows how to identify websites that participate in Brave Payments as verified publishers. Brave could conditionally expose the Brave User-Agent to these websites to allow them to measure and analyze the success of Brave Payments.
Brave can also work around specific site blocking by hiding their User-Agent from any site that would target and negatively impacting their users using site-patching. Site-patching is a tool you’ll find in most web browsers were the browser vendor can run script snippets or change settings for specific websites to work around User-Agent discrimination and compatibility issues.
How to detect Brave?
Update (): Brave still doesn’t have its own User-Agent. The User-Agent may be deprecated going forward, however. On a positive note, you can now reliably detect Brave using the following test:
Update (): New detection mechanism added. The new method is Brave’s official alternative to a distinct user-agent. The previous mechanism detected a special property of the
Brave doesn’t care much to maintain compatibility with the Web Platform and standards. One of the weirder things it does is to remove specific URL query parameters from all requests. These parameters are added and used by companies like Google and Facebook for click-attribution.
To detect Brave: From the client, send a request to a specially crafted URL (below). This should be sent to the same-origin or you accidentally measure WebKit ITP 2.2 instead.
On the server side, verify whether you got all three query parameters. If the two first parameters were removed then the request probably came from Brave. There’s an inherent margin for error when it comes to attributing browser behavior to a specific browser.
There are a few different extensions that has the same behavior. I was only able to identify a combined installation base of 2200 for these extensions in the Chrome Web Store and Mozilla Add-ons Directory.
This method was introduced with Brave for desktop version 1.1.20 and last verified in version 1.1.21. It doesn’t work on Brave for iOS or Android.
Please do not discriminate against people based on their browser of choice! Use this method to measure and communicate with them about it but don’t block access! The web must remain open and diverse.
This type of fingerprinting is ridicules and it shouldn’t be necessary. I hope we’ll see Brave live up to its own name and follow with the web community consensus: every browser should have their own User-Agent.
Please leave a comment below to notify me if the detection method stops working, and I’ll share another detection method. I’ve got a few dozen different methods.