A new advert and tracker-free search engine service was launched this week in the UK, France and Germany.

Neeva, as it is known, already has over 600,000 users in the US after launching there last year.

The developer, Sridhar Ramaswamy, had previously worked at Google for 16 years and felt that the technology sector had become "exploitative" of people's data and that that was something he no longer wanted to be a part of.

Neeva has since raised $77.5m (£68m) from investors and while it has a free search engine service as it's key offer, other features such as a password manager and VPN service will be made available on a subscription basis with the price in the UK likely to be about £5 per month.

"We felt the traditional search engines had become about advertising and advertisers - and not really about serving users.
Google has a dominant position in the marketplace - and the incentive for them to truly innovate, to truly create disruptive experiences, is not really there.
And then also as a company they feel obligated to show more and more revenue and profit to their shareholders, so they just keep increasing the number of ads."

stated Mr Ramaswamy.

A short test drive for Neeva

Search the word "migraine" on both Google and Neeva, and the first page of results are fairly similar - links to news articles and factual information.

Neeva creator Sridhar Ramaswamy
Image caption,
Neeva creator Sridhar Ramaswamy

But with a brand, the difference becomes more clearly defined.

Type "BMW" into both search engines leads to links to the carmaker's website and Wikipedia entry., but while Google follows with a map, social-media feeds and links to used-car dealers, Neeva sticks with different BMW official pages.

Google certainly has more variety - but it is also blatantly pushs you towards buying a new car (a BMW!).

Neeva's Chrome browser extension also lists the trackers installed on web pages visited.

A few examples:

  • the Daily Mail had 351 trackers
  • the BBC had 4 of which 2 were internal tools
  • Tesco (supermarket chain) 5
  • Sainsbury's (another supermarket chain) 10
  • parenting forum Mumsnet 27
  • the front page of Reddit 3!
  • Amazon 3 - all its own

And almost all - except the BBC - had at least one belonging to Google, meaning they are receiving anonymised information about users visiting those pages. While the extension was activated, no ads displayed around the editorial content.

To date, none of Neeva's other rivals has managed to dent the dominance of Google search. "To Bing" or "to Duckduckgo" have not become verbs in the way that "to google" has.

And when asked if Mr Ramaswamy could ever topple his former employer, Steph Liu, an analyst at Forrester specializing in privacy and search, said:

"Realistically, no.
"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".
Ex-Google ad boss builds tracker-free search engine
Sridhar Ramaswamy says the technology sector has become “exploitative” of people’s data.

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