Ex-Google employee launches a tracker and ad-free search engine

Sridhar Ramaswamy, an Indian-born software engineer who worked in Google’s advertising division for 16 years has launched his own search engine called Neeva.

The developer built the search engine to respond to concerns of data breaches and abuse by large conglomerates such as Google. The search tool is ad-free and tracker-free, reducing the chances of individual data being harvested and sold to advertisers or other unscrupulous dealers.

The platform launched last year and has so far attracted more than 600,000 users in the United States. Ramaswamy says the platform is focused on user-first and users are able to conduct “private, transparent searches versus a search engine serving advertiser”.

“The internet should be your private corner of the web instead of a barrage of ads, SEO spam and irrelevant information,” said Ramaswamy, “We’re reinventing search by giving users control over sources; providing accurate and transparent results, as well as private and customized experiences without the influence of corporate bias, tracked around the web.”

The search engine is likely to get a huge user base in Europe where antitrust and data breach lawsuits have bedevilled big-tech companies for years.

Neeva has raised $77.5m and is currently free, but there is a possibility of a subscription model in the future.

BBC technology editor Zoe Kleinman says that after testing Google against Neeva, the former led to links with the carmaker’s website and Wikipedia entry. It’s more inclined to lure the user into buying.

“When I try “BMW”, both search engines lead with links to the carmaker’s website and Wikipedia entry. Google certainly has more variety – but it is also blatantly pushing me towards buying a car.” Zoe says.

Neeva has a Chrome browser extension that also lists trackers installed on various websites which can help uses to identify who is harvesting their data.

Neeva is mounting a huge challenge against Google the giant. While they are not necessarily competing for users, it provides a great alternative particularly in limiting data breaches online.

One analyst told the BBC, “It’s a sort of David and Goliath story. Google has too many users, it has too much revenue. The ultimate goal is to offer an alternative for the consumer base who are worried about their privacy, who don’t want Google hoovering up their data and targeting ads based on their search history”.

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Simon W Nderitu

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