Google has dominated the search engine market for the past two decades, but the company makes most of its money from advertising. So it’s no surprise that the company gathers a lot of data about users of its search engine (and other products) in order to deliver targeted ads.
But there are a growing number of alternatives that claim to respect user privacy. In fact, two of them launched just this month: last week privacy-focused web browser maker Brave launched Brave Search beta. And today a startup called Neeva launched its own alternative, which it claims is the “world’s first private, ad-free search engine.” The only catch? You have to pay to use it.
That makes sense if you think about it – running a search engine takes a lot of resources and if Neeva isn’t making money by selling ads then it needs to make money in some other way. So the company will charge users a subscription fee of $4.95 per month.
Of course, that’s a tall ask for folks who are used to searching for free, but Neeva is giving away the first 3 months of usage for free to folks who sign up for the service.
And the upshot is that, unlike Google, Bing, and most other existing search engines, Neeva will provide ad-free search results. That means not only will there be no ads in the sidebar, but also that top listings won’t be paid results. They’ll be determined by Neeva’s algorithms.
The company was founded by former Google executives Sridhar Ramaswamy and Vivek Raghunathan and, as Fast Company explains a key idea behind the new search engine is that Google’s customers are advertisers, and you’re the product. Neeva flips that equation and makes you the customer. By paying $5 per month, not only do you get an ad-free search experience, but you can also:
- Use a browser extension to detect and block trackers on websites
- Choose which news sources, shops, and other sites you want to see results from on your home page
- View shopping recommendations that aren’t paid for
- Sync personal email, calendar, and documents so you can find them from the same search bar you use to search the web
Some of those features require use of Neeva’s browser extension, which is compatible with Chrome, Firefox, Brave, Edge, and Safari. There’s also an IOS app, but no mention of an Android one yet.
Of course, Neeva isn’t the only privacy-centric search engine around. DuckDuckGo has been offering its alternative to Google for more than a decade. But while DuckDuckGo doesn’t track user data, it is ad-supported and it also relies heavily on Microsoft Bing for its search result.
Brave’s new search engine is currently both free to use and ad-free while in beta. But eventually users will have the choice of choosing one or the other – they can view Brave’s ads in their search results or they’ll be able to pay an unspecified amount for an ad-free experience.
That means that soon folks willing to pay for an ad-free search engine experience may have two different options. What remains to be seen is whether there are enough people who fall into that category for this to be a sustainable business.