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Ad-free Google rival to launch in the UK

Google search, Neeva - The Telegraph
Google search, Neeva - The Telegraph

A rival to Google that is free of advertising is to launch in the UK amid claims that the Silicon Valley tech company's online search tools are “actively getting worse.”

Sridhar Ramaswamy, who previously led Google’s $200bn (£177bn) advertising business, said Neeva did not sell advertising or track its users.

It instead makes money by offering a paid-for subscription, which costs $4.95 per month in the US, that includes extra privacy tools and features.

The company, which offers a browser extension and a smartphone app, has secured $80m in venture capital funding and is used by 600,000 people in the US. It launches its free tier in the UK and Europe on Thursday.

Mr Ramaswamy, who joined Google in 2003 before founding Neeva in 2019, said during his time at the company its search tools were “less and less about users and more and more a product for advertisers.”

Neeva does not include paid advertising and blocks online ad trackers. It also does not have a shopping tab or make buying recommendations. Neeva tailors its results by allowing account holders to customise their search results in their preferences. The UK paid-for tier is expected to cost £5 per month when it launches.

The former Google executive said users had increasingly complained about the cluttered experience of browsing on Google and about excessive recommendations that were in fact paid for advertising.

He also claimed that Google was abusing its dominance of search. He cited an example of Google threatening to pull its search engine out of Australia in response to new laws that would force it to pay for snippets of news.

Mr Ramaswamy said: “To have that be controlled by a single company should be terrifying to everybody.”

Google’s search engine market share is in excess of 90pc in some markets, with rival search products such as Microsoft’s Bing or Russia’s Yandex only having a few percentage points.

There are small rivals that offer an alternative to Google, such as privacy focused DuckDuckGo or the browser Brave.

Mr Ramaswamy added: “The ad-supported internet has created vastly misaligned incentives that have made Big Technology monopolies and advertisers richer while exploiting the privacy and personal data of users. It’s time for a new approach to search that puts people first.”

In some markets, Google has been forced to offer alternatives to its Chrome search browser. In the EU, it was hit with a €4bn fine for abusing its Android smartphone operating system to benefit its own search engine.

A Google spokesman said its adverts “help business of all sizes grow and connect with new customers”.