Ex-Google boss launches advert and tracker-free search engine

Last week, an advert-and tracker-free search engine launched in the UK, France and Germany. Created by ex-Google senior vice president of advertising and commerce Sridhar Ramaswamy, Neeva is a search engine that is entirely ad-free.

Although it is free for users to search, other features such as password manager access and virtual private network (VPN) service will soon be made available on a subscription basis. The price is likely to be around £5 per month.

Mr Ramaswamy told the BBC that he felt “the traditional search engines had become about advertising and advertisers – and not really about serving users… Google has a dominant position in the marketplace – and the incentive for them to truly innovate, to truly create disruptive experiences, is not really there.”

“And then also as a company they feel obligated to show more and more revenue and profit to their shareholders, so they just keep increasing the number of ads.” He added that he left Google because the technology sector had become “exploitative” of people’s data.

Now, Neeva boldly claims that users will receive “no tracking” and “no bias”. The search engine also claims that users can “search free from corporate influence”. Neeva first launched in the USA last year and has attracted more than 600,000 users. Since its inception, Neeva has raised around £68m from investors.

How does Neeva display results?

At face value, Neeva seems to display results in a similar manner to Google. For example, when searching for a car brand like BMW, both SERPs show the carmaker’s website and their Wikipedia entry.

However, Google follows this information with a map, links to social media feeds and links to used-car dealers. Meanwhile, Neeva displays different BMW official pages. While Google shows more variety in the results shown to users, the results it shows are all geared towards the user purchasing a car.

Added to this, the Neeva Chrome browser extension also clearly displays and lists the trackers installed on web pages visited. For example, when a user clicks on the Daily Mail website, they can see that 351 trackers are following them. Plus, one key difference between the two search engines is that Neeva doesn’t display any ads at all.

Can Neeva topple Google? – the view from Spike

Although the concept of Neeva is new and unique, it appears unlikely the search engine will be able to rival Google. After all, several upstart challengers have failed to dent Google’s market share.

While Mr Ramaswamy is offering a viable alternative for a customer base that is becoming increasingly worried about privacy, personal data and targeted ads, Google likely has too many users and too much revenue.

Similarly, it remains unclear how many users will be willing to pay £5 per month for a password manager and a VPN. If Neeva is unable to convert searchers to paying customers, it may run out of money quickly.

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