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Leon Kaye headshot

New Search Engine a Symptom of the Rising Backlash Against Big Tech

As more consumers believe big tech isn't listening to their data privacy concerns, this startup is rolling out an ad-free, subscription-based search engine.
By Leon Kaye
Big Tech

More than 20 years ago, the rise of online advertising platforms like DoubleClick and 24/7 Media promised to make much of the Internet and its content absolutely free. That promise sputtered during the early 2000s, but eventually big tech titans like Google (which eventually acquired DoubleClick) and Facebook not only ironed out some of the problems with online advertising, but also became wildly successful and profitable.

But the huge success of online ads, in the views of more consumers, has come with its own downside. Many would even say advertising has gone from innovative to creepy, as that eye cream or vacation you were thinking about keep following you from search engine results to social media platforms to that news story you’re reading. And for those who simply are researching information for work, study or play, those search results appear to get more and more cluttered.

To that end, one search engine company says it has an answer: a paid subscription model that promises a better user experience, one free of those oft-annoying ads, because this company is answering to its customers — not the advertisers who keep flocking to big tech.

Neeva has announced this week that its search engine service is available to U.S. customers. For now, those interested can visit the site, score a free trial for three months, and pay $4.95 a month thereafter. The company promises complete data privacy by blocking any third-party trackers. Users can also connect Neeva to calendars, email accounts and cloud storage platforms.

For those consumers for whom online shopping will always be their thing, Neeva allows them to choose retailers and vendors from which they wish to see results. Customization options are also available for news content and any financial information consumers wish to research.

Plus, for those for whom data privacy is of the utmost priority, Neeva allows for incognito searches as well. That’s a response to the concerns many people have about how their data is being shared online versus how companies are listening to them: A recent S&P Global survey, for example, found that while almost half of consumers worry about sharing their personal information online, only 8 percent of companies have dedicated teams that focus on such challenges as data protection and data privacy.

“Neeva was built on the premise that search should focus on the consumer, and only the consumer, not advertisers,” said Sridhar Ramaswamy, the CEO and co-founder of Neeva, said in a public statement. “Search results should always prioritize finding the best answer to a consumer’s query — not on selling ads or tracking behavior online. Today’s launch of our subscription-based model is the first step in providing a viable search alternative for consumers, built on trust and transparency.”

Neeva is not the first search that promises a search experience free from those data privacy, advertising and tracking concerns. DuckDuckGo has its share of fans seeking to avoid anything big tech since it launched in 2008; last month, Brave announced a similar search engine without user tracking and other data privacy worries; for now, that service is in beta testing.

But Neeva stands out for trying out a subscription-based model, and it also benefits from the knowledge it has from hiring a staff largely comprised of former Google and YouTube employees. For five bucks a month, there’s a good shot many consumers will feel the service and privacy are both worth that spend.

Image credit: Pierre Bamin/Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye