Ad-supported models have their limitations, Sridhar Ramaswamy, former Google advertising exec, once told The New York Times. Now he has co-founded a search engine that "won't show ads and won't collect or profit from user data."
The search engine Neeva will charge users a subscription fee, but whether or not the engine will make it depends on how much users value their privacy and the ability to keep data out of the grasp of companies like Google and Microsoft.
Ramaswamy's search engine follows the truism "you get what you pay for" or "if you pay for something, you're a customer—but if you get it for free,” it becomes a product. He spent more than 15 years at Google. Now he also is a Venture Partner at Greylock, a VC firm.
If Ramaswamy, or anyone else for that matter, wants to ever launch a subscription-based search engine, now might be the time, as society changes its view on what works and what doesn’t -- for example, the “reckoning” around racism and how it drives advertising in the United States.
Recently, multinational food companies like PepsiCo, which owns Aunt Jemima, and ConAgra Foods, which owns Mrs Butterworth’s, and Uncle Ben’s rice, owned by Mars, announced major changes to brands that many shoppers for decades have felt comfortable supporting.
Then there’s the John Wayne airport in Santa Ana, California, where the Democratic Party of Orange County is calling for the name to be removed. In a resolution passed last Friday, the group claims the Oscar-winning star was racist and bigoted.
The group claims Wayne, during an interview with Playboy magazine in 1971, said “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.”
There are other search engine focused on privacy such as Startpage and DuckDuckGo, but neither requires a subscription to use them.
Startpage serves Google ads without personalizing them. Startpage also aggregates news from Google to use in its News feed.
With a subscription service would search engines then become a publisher? And would Google's model to pay publishers for content become even more prevalent?