Neeva: To the Rescue?

July 2, 2020

After the 2017 scandal involving YouTube ads, Google’s head of advertising left the company. However, Sridhar Ramaswamy was not finished with search; he promised then to find another way that did not depend on ads. Now we learn subscription service Neeva is that promised approach from Ars Technica’s article, “Search Engine Startup Asks Users to Be the Customer, not the Product.” Not only does paying to search through Neeva allow one to avoid ads, the platform vows to respect user privacy, as well.

There are just a couple, fundamental problems. First, will enough users actually pay to search when they are used to Googling for free? Critics suspect most users will opt to accept ads over paying a fee. As for the privacy promise, we already have (ad-supported) privacy-centric search platforms DuckDuckGo and Startpage. Besides, though Neeva’s “Digital Bill of Rights” that dominates the company’s About page sounds nice, the official Privacy Policy linked in the site’s footers prompts doubt. Reporter Jim Salter writes:

“Neeva opens that section by saying it does not share, disclose, or sell your personal information with third parties ‘outside of the necessary cases below’—but those necessary cases include ‘Affiliates,’ with the very brusque statement that Neeva ‘may share personal information with our affiliated companies.’ Although the subsections on both Service Providers and Advertising Partners are hedged with usage limitations, there are no such limits given for data shared with ‘Affiliates.’ The document also provides no concrete definition of who the term ‘Affiliates’ might refer to, or in what context.

We noted:

“More security-conscious users should also be aware of Neeva’s Data Retention policy, which simply states ‘we store the personal information we receive as described in this Privacy Policy for as long as you use our Services or as necessary to fulfill the purposes for which it was collected… [including pursuit of] legitimate business purposes.’ Given that the data collection may include direct connection to a user’s primary Google or Microsoft email account, this might amount to a truly unsettling volume of personal data—data that is now vulnerable to compromise of Neeva’s services, as well as use or sale (particularly in the case of acquisition or merger) by Neeva itself.”

Neeva is currently in beta testing, but anyone still interested can sign up to be an early tester on waitlist at the bottom of this blog post. Though Neeva has yet to set a price for its subscription, we’re told it should be under $10 per month.

Cynthia Murrell, July 2, 2020


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