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He ran Google’s advertising arm. Now he’s building a search engine that cuts out ads

June 22, 2020, 2:15 PM UTC

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Consumers and employees alike have joined the great revolt against big tech companies that once prided themselves on an ethical culture, calling out everything from lacking privacy practices to tech’s role in politics.

Perhaps in the ultimate rebellion against his former employer, Sridhar Ramaswamy, once head of Google’s $115 billion advertising arm, has founded a new search engine that neither shows ads nor profits from user data, Ramaswamy told the New York Times.

Disillusioned by the company’s drive for growth (which at times prioritized ads above, say, the best possible search option, he says) and disturbed by news reports that Google had profited off of YouTube videos of children in scenarios that appealed to pedophiles, Ramaswamy said he decided the ad-model “had limitations.” 

Neeva—his new search engine that looks through the web, personal files, and emails—aims to make money off of subscriptions instead. Notably, the company is not building a completely new piece of technology, and search will be powered by Microsoft’s Bing, with other information also coming from existing providers. On that pitch of a centralized, paid search platform, the company has raised some $37.5 million from Greylock and Sequoia Capital—yes that Sequoia, the one that once backed Google.

The road will be long and arduous, however. Even while consumers grouse and rail against the likes of Alphabet and Facebook for offering free services at the expense of personal information, those tech giants still remain dominant. Other search engine competitors have sought to enter the battle arena wielding the lance of privacy, but haven’t threatened Google: DuckDuckGo, which shows ads but does not track users, commands a 1.4% share of the U.S. search market while Google handles 88%.

There’s also another trend in this story: As tech employees grow disillusioned with their companies and the pandemic leaves thousands unemployed, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more former workers spin out to create their own companies—and perhaps mount their own challenges against their one-time employers.

Lucinda Shen
Twitter: @shenlucinda


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