In November 2017, Sridhar Ramaswamy—the head of Google’s $95 billion advertising arm—left the company after a scandal concerning advertisements for major corporations found on YouTube videos that put children in questionable situations. Ramaswamy told The New York Times that shortly after that incident, he decided that he needed to do something different in his life—because “an ad-supported model had limitations.”
Ramaswamy’s startup company, Neeva, is that “something different”—and though it, too, is a search engine, it seeks to sidestep some of Google’s problems by avoiding the ads altogether. Ramaswamy says that the new engine won’t show ads and won’t collect or profit from user data—instead, it will charge its users a subscription fee.
Neeva’s approach follows an old truism that says if you pay for something, you’re a customer—but if you get it for free, you’re a product. That’s likely to be a very difficult sell, to a public that has come to expect a service to be “free” and doesn’t often care very much about privacy aspects. Even if we handwave the difficulty of acquiring a market, other privacy-focused players are expressing significant doubt about Neeva’s approach.