Ex-Google ad boss is building a search engine without a tracker

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An ad-free, tracker-free search engine will launch in the UK, France and Germany on Thursday.

Neeva has 600,000 users in the United States, where it launched last year.

Creator Sridhar Ramaswamy, who worked at Google for 16 years and ran its advertising business, told BBC News the tech industry had become an “exploiter” of people’s data, something he no longer wanted to be a part of.

Trackers share information about online activity, primarily to target advertisements.

Neeva has raised $77.5m (£68m) from investors.

It offers free search, with other features such as password manager access and virtual private network (VPN) service to be made available on a subscription basis.

Users are encouraged to create an account, to build subscriptions at a later date.

And the price in the UK was probably around £5 a month, Mr Ramaswamy said.

“We felt that traditional search engines had become about advertising and advertisers – not really about serving users,” he said.

“Google has a dominant position in the market – and the incentive to really innovate, to really create disruptive experiences, isn’t really there.

“And then, as a company, they feel compelled to show more and more revenue and profit to their shareholders, so they keep increasing the number of announcements.”

Try Neeva

Search the word “migraine” on Google and Neeva, and the first page of results is quite similar – links to news articles and factual information.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, creator of Neeva

But with a brand, the difference becomes clearer.

When I try “BMW” both search engines lead with links to the automaker’s website and the Wikipedia entry.

But while Google follows with a map, social media feeds and links to used car dealerships, Neeva sticks to the various official BMW pages.

Google certainly has more variety – but it also blatantly pushes me to buy a car.

Neeva’s Chrome browser extension lists trackers installed on visited web pages.

I tried a few:

  • the Daily Mail had 351 trackers.

  • the BBC’s four, two of which were internal tools

  • Tesco five

  • 10 from Sainsbury’s

  • Mumsnet Parent Forum 27

  • reddit front page three

  • Amazon three – all his own

And almost all of them – but not the BBC – had at least one owned by Google, which means that Google receives anonymized information about users visiting these pages.

While I had the extension enabled, no ads were showing around the editorial content.

But in the end, none of Neeva’s other rivals have shaken Google’s search dominance.

“To Bing” or “to Duckduckgo” – another privacy-focused service – aren’t verbs like “to google” is.

And asked if Mr Ramaswamy might ever overthrow his former employer, Forrester privacy and research analyst Steph Liu said: “In reality, no.

“It’s kind of a David and Goliath story. Google has too many users, it has too much revenue.

“The ultimate goal is to provide an alternative for consumers who are concerned about their privacy, who don’t want Google to grab their data and target ads based on their search history.”

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