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.

Neeva

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.

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14 Comments

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  1. I would only pay for a search engine if it did the search itself better. As in: don’t cripple, censor, or re-arrange my search results, don’t rewrite result links, don’t freak out when my search query is “unusual”, search exactly for what is specified in the query, including punctuation (unless I specifically asked for suggestions), and support all kinds of operators, including logic, parts of speech, proximity, date, geography etc.

  2. This sounds like another way to slurp user data, only now, you’re handing them your name (since you have to pay for it) to match along with search results.

    More and more, I just miss computing (and the internet) from the 90’s/early 2000’s. Such a simpler time.

  3. I wouldn’t pay for it nor use it if free. I don’t why people would want a one-sided search engine where people find services but the services don’t actively look in the other direction for customers. This is a natural and healthy process and contributes to the search experience. Advertisers don’t want to spend money and get zero clickthrough, so they only have incentive to spend ads on things you will click on. If you click on it, wasn’t it a good search result? I use search engines to find services, and those services use search engines to find me as well through targeted advertising. It creates quality at scale in the engine and am not convinced its feasible to build a high quality search engine without advertisers.

    1. “I don’t why people would want a one-sided search engine where people find services but the services don’t actively look in the other direction for customers.”
      Mainly because a) I don’t always want to find a commercial service to be its customer, because maybe I just want information from a less biased source and b) I don’t really need companies to try to disrupt my search, because if I’m looking for people like them, a more normal ranking means I can review several and make a choice rather than being SEOed into a suboptimal option.
      “If you click on it, wasn’t it a good search result?”
      If I click on it deliberately, probably. Usually, it was where I wanted to go anyway but now DuckDuckGo gets some money, so I do. If I clicked on it due to annoying scripts, no it wasn’t. You’ll find that I don’t click on many ads. In fact, they’re usually so useless that I just scan past them.
      “I use search engines to find services, and those services use search engines to find me”
      And I use search engines to find information, which often doesn’t require a service to come up and tell me what they think.

  4. Since “other” doesn’t seem to list what I said upon casting my vote, I’ll restate that I’d pay for it if I could run everything on my computer at home. If you’ve got some opinions that are illegal in your country but still want more evidence supporting them, you probably don’t want to have to trust any company with knowing that you’ve got them.

  5. I agree with JD.

    Just look at the results in the screenshot. Why would a search for “travel hacks” turn up two completely unrelated NodeJS packages in the top three results? And this is one of the screenshots that Neeva chose to show off their new search engine?

  6. A search engine alone? No.

    A search engine, email, maps service, and cloud storage service? Heck yes.

    If Google offered 100% privacy and anonymity for a fee, I would pay $5/mo, maybe more depending on the amount of cloud storage. I’d even accept degraded search engine performance due to the lack of personal data.

    1. If a fox could care a chicken yard, then it wouldn’t be a fox 🙂

      My friend, be aware of wolfs with sheep’s skin.

      1. I really don’t expect Google to offer a service like that, because doing so would be an admission that their default business model is a concern.

        I’d definitely prefer if a more private platform caught up to them.

  7. Paying for a search engine is a bit of a hard sell for me. If it worked as good as Google, I would consider it. The problem is I think Google works as good as it does because it learns your behaviors. When I put in a CPU model in Google, the benchmark is always in the the first 5 results. I’m assuming Google has learned that every time I search for a CPU, I’m looking for a benchmark on a certain website. When I search with Yahoo, Bing, or DuckDuckGo, I have to type a lot more in the search to get the same results. So for me, there’s some benefit to Google learning my search behaviors.

  8. I’ve been using Brave search for a week or two. I am not impressed. No matter what I search for, the top results are almost always for products or services you can buy rather than information on a topic or forums or videos about how to do the thing.

    This happens in Google, too, but I expect that. If I don’t buy something, Google doesn’t make any money. Google now focuses on products relevant to the search terms, not web pages relevant to the search terms. It didn’t use to be this way.