Search engines try to compete with Google by offering fewer ads, more privacy


The name Google has become so synonymous with online search that it has become a verb. Want to find out something? Search it on Google.

But a new generation of search engines are taking on the online search market, promising to provide an engine with more customizable options, fewer ads, and more consideration for user privacy.

While there is little chance that any of these upstarts will become the next No.1 anytime soon, a handful of them have found a small but dedicated audience looking for an alternative to the internet that Google controls. .

One of the newer players is Neeva, co-founded by Sridhar Ramaswamy, who worked for years as senior vice president of advertising at Google.

“The core experience is going back to the roots of just being able to find what you want, move on with your life, and have that search engine be like a silent ally in the background, as opposed to the cacophony of the modern Internet, “he said Spark host Nora Young.

A promotional image from Neeva’s website, comparing search results from Google, on the left, and Neeva, on the right. Many Google search results contain advertisements that may not relate to your original search. Neeva says her ad-free research is always focused on what you’re looking for. (SRC)

Ramaswamy left the company in 2017, shortly after reports that advertisers like Cadbury and Diageo discovered that their ads were featured on videos of scantily clad children on Google’s YouTube video platform.

The controversy convinced Ramaswamy to seek a better way to approach Internet research that would not fall into similar ethical conflicts.

It presents Neeva as a private and ad-free search engine. Results will not include advertisements, and the company claims that any information it collects from users is not shared with third parties.

This ad-free experience comes at a cost, however: a subscription fee of US $ 5 per month, after a three-month trial period.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, the former senior vice president of ads at Google, thinks that going without advertising – and paying for it – is a better way to research. (Greylock)

Ramaswamy argues that no search engine is really free, as users end up paying with all the ads and affiliate links clogging the search results, making it harder to find what they actually want. .

You can see that every time you google for video content, according to tech reporter and author Clive Thompson: Most, if not all, results will come from YouTube.

“Whereas if I do the same research on [Microsoft’s] Bing, I get stuff from all over the place, like different video sites or stuff that’s just hosted by a news organization, ”he told Young, although he noted that the non-video search results of Bing are not always as accurate as those of Google.

Neeva collects “a good amount of data” from its users, according to a review from tech site TechRadar.

According to Neeva’s privacy policy, it collects information provided by the user, such as the email address you use to create your account on the site, and other commonly collected data such as your IP address and the type of computer software you are using.

Google provides tools for users to control how much data the company retains from their searches. One option, introduced in 2019, allows users to automatically delete all search history after three to 18 months on desktop, and as little as 15 minutes on mobile.

In 2020, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announcement that its automatic deletion option for search, location history and voice commands will be enabled by default for new users. However, existing users will still need to change these settings manually if they wish.

Confidentiality vs personalization

Another new search engine, You.com, is taking a different approach by literally changing the way you look at search results.

Rather than a list of mostly linear results sorted in order of relevance or precision, You.com displays search results in a grid-like format.

You.com displays search results as a grid, instead of a linear ranking list. (SRC)

It also allows users to “vote for” and “vote down” for individual results, which directly affects their ranking in future searches.

This additional flexibility however comes at the expense of simplicity; Adi Robertson of The Verge said its layout may seem “overwhelming and somehow cluttered” to anyone familiar with Google’s linear approach.

Co-founder Richard Socher said, however, that he has found younger users accustomed to other social media platforms like Instagram or TikTok, who display tiled content both vertically and horizontally, have been able to s ‘adapt quickly to You.com’s unique layout.

Richard Socher, co-founder of the new search engine You.com. (Eric Millette)

Like Neeva and other search engine startups, You.com does not track users or “impose targeted, privacy-invasive advertising on them,” according to Socher. It also allows users to toggle between “private and personalized mode” or to turn off all tracking of any kind.

“Our hunch is that most people would like about five to 10 percent of their searches to be extremely private, but for a vast majority of other searches, they actually prefer some personalization,” Socher said.

Take on Google

While the wave of newcomers and entrants may look promising, can any of them actually overthrow Google’s supremacy?

“The short answer is probably no, no,” said Thompson.

According to Ars Technica, Google’s market share for search is over 90 percent, while the second-largest competitor, Bing, has just 2.48 percent.

“If something like Microsoft with Bing can’t bring Google down to the forefront, then I think the little ones don’t have a great chance of becoming 80% of all searches. But I think they definitely could find it. an audience for what they’re doing, ”Thompson said.

The Google logo is displayed at the entrance to the tech company’s Toronto offices. (Chris Helgren / Reuters)

Ramaswamy has no illusions that he will overthrow his former employer anytime soon. He says that within a few months of its release, Neeva has over 50,000 members. He will consider it a success if he manages to reach a million users in North America.

“People make the mistake of comparing a startup to a Google. They wonder, “Are you really going to start a trillion dollar business?” ” “, did he declare.

“You have to have smaller goals when you’re a startup. “

Thompson pointed the finger at DuckDuckGo – in his words, “that funny little startup search engine” – as a surprising success.

It was launched in 2008, positioning itself as an opponent of “Big Data” companies like Facebook and Twitter, which have relied on the data they collect from users to deliver personalized experiences but also generate significant advertising revenue.

Today, users log tens of millions of searches to DuckDuckGo per day, and the Philadelphia-based company employs more than 140 people.

“It’s a really interesting and positive story,” said Thompson. “You’re not going to knock Google off the perch, but you’ll do pretty well.”

Tech reporter Clive Thompson has written about the current state and possible future of research. (Liz / clivethompson.net)

What is the future of research?

One of the reasons it will be difficult for new businesses to supplant Google as the default search engine is that many don’t even know they’re using it, Ramaswamy says.

“Most people don’t even realize they’re researching. They sort of instinctively do it,” he said.

Search engines are even showing up in places we don’t know we’re using them, Thompson said.

One form of this is voice assistants, where we bark questions like “What time is it?” Or “What’s the temperature?” to a smart speaker sitting on the kitchen counter.

As complex as the future of online search may be, Thompson isn’t very optimistic that the next decade will see Google cut searches to half to half, with the other half being “this wonderful garden of different options. “.

So don’t expect the people who describe online search as “search it on Google” to go out of fashion anytime soon.


Written by Jonathan Ore. Produced by Samraweet Yohannes and Adam Killick.


Rosemary S. Bishop