Neeva: Ad-free Google rival launches in NZ with $9 per month AI-powered premium option

A new search engine launched in New Zealand on Friday billed as a powerful Google rival with no ads, no tracking and no affiliate links, instead asking users to pay a fee for its best features.

Neeva's premium subscription will cost NZ$8.99 per month or NZ$79.99 per year. Both the premium and free versions provide subscribers access to artificial intelligence (AI) which the company said "combines the best of ChatGPT with the authority and timeliness of search".

The basic Neeva search looks relatively similar to Google but shows top search results from the top of the page rather than under a number of ads.

With NeevaAI, search questions are replied to with an answer generated from relevant source websites that are displayed and linked to below the answer.

The paid option comes with additional features like a VPN and password manager.

Neeva is launching in Aotearoa after first going live in the US in 2021, Europe in 2022 and Australia earlier this year, with more than 2 million users currently.

NeevaAI example.
Photo credit: supplied/Neeva

It was founded by former Google executive Sridhar Ramaswamy along with Vivek Raghunathan, former Vice President of Monetisation at YouTube and the company has raised over US$80 million from its investors.

Before launching Neeva, Ramaswamy worked at Google for several years, including a period leading its US$115 billion advertising division.

It might seem ironic that he is now running a Google rival that is anti-ads, but he told Newshub that was inspired by a major change he watched first-hand happening to the internet.

"Over the last like 10 - 15 years, what started as products for users have become instead products for advertisers that serve up more and more ad content," said Ramaswamy.

"Neeva was started with the principle that a search engine should really be about its users. We embarked on this journey to recreate a search engine from scratch that puts users first by showing no ads or affiliate links. Instead, it is paid for by our customers."

Neeva free search results.
Photo credit: Newshub.

Many people have become more protective of their online privacy in recent years and Neeva is far from the first company to market itself in a way that targets that protectiveness. Apple has made it a major part of its brand, launching a popular feature in 2021 that blocks apps from tracking user actions.

There are other search engines that market themselves as having better privacy features than Google - but their revenue models mean they cannot offer the privacy protections that Neeva does, according to Ramaswamy.

"There is an inherent conflict between being ad supported and being privacy minded. In order to serve ads, you want to know as much about that person that you're serving these ads to as possible in order to know the effectiveness of the ads," he said.

"We make sure that your behaviour isn't tracked, by default. We don't keep any search history and don't serve ads. With alternatives like Duck Duck Go or Bing, for example, the instant you click on an ad, you're part of the same tracking machinery that is keeping track of everything that you're doing.

"Additionally, we're providing a superior experience with the advent of AI where you get great answers instead of a set of links."

NeevaAI results show which websites it sourced the information from, allowing users to click through to them and determine their authenticity and reliability. With news sources, they can also click 'prefer more', 'prefer less' or 'no preference' to customise results.

Neeva news source customisation.
Photo credit: Newshub.

Neeva has also worked with Newsguard and last year launched a feature called Bias Buster that ranks US news sites as being either right-wing, left-wing or neutral.

"Our goal at all times is to provide you with the tools that help you reach good decisions about what is and is not trustworthy - but not be presumptuous, not to cross that line of presuming that we know the truth," said Ramaswamy.

Combatting misinformation appears to be part of what Neeva is trying to achieve. It also plans to pay the publishers and content creators it uses as sources for its AI answers.

But its primary goal is to provide a quality search experience with no ads.

"New Zealanders are going to be pleasantly shocked by how Neeva simply takes care of business. It just works for you, every single time, without you having to figure out if what you're looking at is actually a good site or if it's just there because they were the ones that were willing to spend the most money," Ramaswamy told Newshub.

"We want to bring the simplicity and utility of search back to its roots and create a product that's all about delighting people every single time."

Neeva is available in New Zealand from today.