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Can this plucky search engine startup really compete with Google?

June 23, 2022, 5:00 PM UTC

Apparently I’m not the only one a little fed up with Google Search these days.

As The Atlantic’s Charlie Warzel wrote earlier this week, some Google Search users (myself included) feel the ubiquitous tool has been overtaken by annoying ads and SEO gobbledygook. While we remain hooked on Google Search, we want it to feel less like an infomercial.

The objective merits of this subjective sentiment are up for debate, as Warzel’s article details. But there’s no denying that Google’s cash cow search engine continues to evolve in ways destined to draw complaints—and competition.

It’s why Brave Software, one of the most intriguing arrivals to the hilariously one-sided search engine wars, might stand a puncher’s chance at snagging a slice of Google’s market share.

Brave, a San Francisco–based outfit cofounded by former Mozilla leader Brendan Eich and software developer Brian Bondy, promotes its search engine as the privacy-focused alternative to Big Tech giants like Google and Microsoft’s Bing. Brave doesn’t track your online activity for the purposes of microtargeting ads or selling your data. While the site does contain ads, they’re featured less prominently.

As Brave’s eponymous search engine marked its first full year in operation Wednesday, the company reported that users have already logged a not-too-shabby 2.5 billion searches. If its current monthly growth rate keeps up, Brave Search could approach 10 billion searches over the next 12 months.

“Since launching one year ago, Brave Search has prioritized independence and innovation in order to give users the privacy they deserve,” the company’s chief of search, Josep Pujol, said in a statement. “The Web is changing, and our incredible growth shows that there is demand for a new player that puts users first.”

While Pujol’s product is on the rise, it’s far too early to forecast a Brave new world order dawning in search. 

Google parent Alphabet doesn’t release search engine usage data, but in its 2021 SEC annual report, the company said it processed trillions of searches and raked in $149 billion in search-related revenue. StatCounter estimates that Google owns 92.5% of global search market share, a figure that has barely budged over the past decade. When Alphabet listed its potential search engine competitors in its 2021 annual report, Brave didn’t even warrant a mention.

Even smaller rivals boast much more search traffic than Brave. DuckDuckGo, for example, reported 35.3 billion queries in 2021. Bing and Yahoo don’t report their annual totals, but their market share exceeds DuckDuckGo by a factor of five and two, respectively, per StatCounter.

That said, Brave’s approach gives it a narrow window for swiping searchers.

If Brave lives up to its privacy promises—an issue that snagged DuckDuckGo last month—the company could find itself firmly in the Big Tech backlash zeitgeist. While Americans continue to show great faith in the Alphabet unit—Morning Consult surveys showed Google was the most trusted brand in the world in 2021—large tech companies are increasingly under siege from antitrust regulators, policymakers, and consumers over their data harvesting practices.

“[Google has] no interest in privacy, because their business is built on mass collection and exploitation of information,” Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s former advertising chief and the cofounder of ad-free search engine Neeva, said in an interview with Axios earlier this week. (In fairness, Google has taken some steps to reduce online tracking in recent years, such as starting to phase out third-party cookies on the Chrome browser.) 

Brave also can ride the wave of the decentralized internet movement, which only figures to grow as Web3 and blockchain technologies become more mainstream. In a particularly interesting development that dovetails with decentralization, Brave unveiled a tool Wednesday called Goggles (a cheeky dig at Google?) that lets users apply rules and filters to their search results, giving them more control over how links are ranked. 

Brave’s odds of threatening Google’s dominance are pretty long. Others with deeper pockets and better name recognition have tried to slay the search giant, only to end up an afterthought. 

But if anyone can do it, why not the company with courage in its name?

Want to send thoughts or suggestions for Data Sheet? Drop me a line here.

Jacob Carpenter

NEWSWORTHY

On the offensive. A report issued Wednesday by Microsoft concluded that state-backed Russian hackers have launched cyberattacks on 128 organizations in 42 countries since the federation invaded Ukraine earlier this year, the Associated Press reported. Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote that Russian hackers succeeded in 29% of their attempted attacks, most of which targeted entities in NATO-aligned nations. About half the attacks were aimed at government agencies, while the rest targeted think tanks, humanitarian groups, and private companies, among others.

Sooner or later? Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday that metaverse-related revenues could become a significant part of the company’s business by the end of the decade, CNBC reported. Zuckerberg, who has bet much of Meta’s future on the nascent, and still vaguely defined, metaverse, said he hopes to see a billion people spending money in virtual realms by 2030. The Facebook cofounder has previously forecasted that the metaverse would produce huge financial rewards for Meta in the 2030s, though his predictions have often been relatively vague.

No reason to sweat. Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently described the company’s new factories in Texas and Germany as “gigantic money furnaces” losing billions of dollars, though investors weren’t rattled by the colorful commentary. In an interview conducted in late May and released Wednesday, Musk lamented the supply-chain and manufacturing issues afflicting the two plants, which opened earlier this year. Tesla shares still traded 1% higher Wednesday and only fell by 1% in midday trading Thursday.

A security selfie. Instagram will begin testing a new feature Thursday that uses facial identification technology to help determine whether children are trying to evade safety features on the platform, the Washington Post reported. The Meta unit will start taking video selfies as evidence that users are 18 or older, then put the files through artificial intelligence systems that predict the age of the person on video. The option is designed to help verify whether minors changing their age to 18 or older on the platform are, in fact, adults.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Ad help wanted. Netflix will need some support from friends—and maybe even a rival or two—if it’s going to launch an ad-supported tier by the end of this year. To that end, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the streaming giant is exploring multiple potential partners with experience in digital advertising ahead of an expected launch in the coming months. The two leading candidates, per the Journal, are Alphabet unit Google and Comcast’s NBCUniversal, the latter of which operates Netflix competitor Peacock. Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos declined Thursday to get into specific conversations, telling an industry conference that the company is “talking to all of them right now.”

From the article:

Netflix may join with an established player in the advertising industry to launch its ad offering, then build up its own ad business internally, Mr. Sarandos said. “If it becomes so important that we want to have control over it, then we might [build our own ad business].”

Mr. Sarandos said the company wanted to design an ad experience that would be “more integrated and less interruptive” than traditional TV advertising.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

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Gucci’s first big venture into the DAO space is a $25,000 investment to join NFT marketplace SuperRare, by Fran Velasquez, Doreen Wang, and CoinDesk

The race is on to make EV batteries truly sustainable, by Mike Finelli

BEFORE YOU GO

Selling their bodies. You’ve probably seen digital billboards attached to Uber and Lyft car roofs. Now get ready to spy more “wrapped” ride-shares. Reuters reported Thursday that drivers for Uber and Lyft are increasingly turning their vehicle bodies into advertising spaces, hoping to attract some extra cash as average gas prices hover near $5 per gallon. The mobile ads can help drivers rake in $100 to $600 per month, an amount that helps make up for fuel surcharges that aren’t keeping up with costs. One of the vehicle wrapping industry’s main players, Carvertise, said it’s seeing about 10% monthly growth in new customers for its adhesive-backed decals. 

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