Oct 12, 2022
On October 7, The Capitol Forum hosted a conference call with Neeva CEO Sridhar Ramaswamy, to talk about Big Tech, competition, and how his views on data have shifted in creating Neeva. The full transcript, which has been modified slightly for accuracy, can be found below.
TEDDY DOWNEY: Happy Friday, everyone. And thanks for joining today’s conference call with Neeva CEO Shridhar Ramaswamy. Today we’ll be talking about the competitive landscape in search and other issues in big tech and privacy.
A quick note before we begin. The first 20 minutes or so, I’ll interview Sridhar. And then we’ll move into a Q&A format where we will entertain questions from the audience. If you have questions, please email them to email@example.com. That’s firstname.lastname@example.org. And for those of you not familiar with us, Capitol is spelled with an “O”. Thanks so much for joining us today, Sridhar.
SRIDHAR RAMASWAMY: Hey, Teddy. Super excited to be here.
TEDDY DOWNEY: So I think first I’d love to learn about sort of the origin story here. Obviously, Google is a Goliath in search. What made you want to start a search engine?
SRIDHAR RAMASWAMY: Yeah, I actually have been part of search and search apps for a long time. I joined early Google as an engineer in 2003 and gradually grew as the company grew to run the search ads team. And then I ran other teams like shopping and travel and payments and search infrastructure, pretty much all of ads and commerce for five years before leaving like roughly four years ago.
I left because I’d been at Google for a long time and I wanted to do something different. My cofounder, Vivek, and I chatted a lot. And strangely, both of us that had worked on search for 15 years felt that there was a real need for a new search engine, one that started with the user. We felt that search on Google, let’s face it, is a practical monopoly which is getting worse and worse over time. One part is the ad load, but the other is also just a lack of innovation. It happens to all well-established incumbents.
So that’s why we started Neeva. We said, Let’s put the user first. Search is a gateway to all kinds of information. Whether it’s like a place that you want to go have a meal, when you have a headache, when you want to buy a product and you want to look up the lyrics to a song, it’s central to so many things that we do. And we wanted to take it back to its roots and create a service that was all about you, the user, the customer. We don’t show ads. We don’t show affiliate links. We don’t share any data. We put you back in charge to create an experience that starts and ends with you. That’s sort of how the Neeva came about. It’s sort of back to basics search.
TEDDY DOWNEY: And you’re obviously now kind of a prominent voice in terms of calling for antitrust and competition enforcement generally in tech. And I’d love to hear your story about how when you’re building Neeva, what’s preventing you from competing on a level playing field with Google?
SRIDHAR RAMASWAMY: Yeah. What happens is when companies capture a very large market share, obviously, they try very hard to protect it. And the funny thing about competition is when companies are small and markets are diverse, we like the competition. That’s what creates great products. But search, with Google being such a dominant position right now, is being held back. There’s not enough innovation. And this is driven more by the fact that Google has all the consumer touchpoints locked up.
It is really hard for a new company, for example, like Neeva, to be one of the search providers in a browser. It just means that there is no way for you to even appear in front of the user. And even when users want to voluntarily change their search engine—let’s say they hear about us in The Capitol Forum podcast—on browsers like Safari, for example, they can’t change their default search engine. It’s very, very difficult.
So we worked on this search deeply. I have folks on my team that have helped build Google Search that are really great at infrastructure, at quality, at all of the things that are needed to create a great search engine. But then it comes to actually having consumers experience choice. The bar is very, very high. In fact, what I would say is that we need to take a page from the European playbook and make sure that there is choice. Things like the Android choice screen, things like saying the customers should be allowed to decide what their search engine is going to be. I think these are the things that will encourage more competition.
At this point, we have a really good product. We are proud of what we have created with a 50 person team. Now it’s 70 person team, but it’s sort grown over the past like two or three years. That’s a tiny fraction of the many thousands of people that work on Google Search. We are being held back not by the quality of the team, not by the quality of the product, not even by funding, but by the lack of just being able to get in front of people and for them to even easily make a switch. I think this lack of competition is a significant problem for us.
TEDDY DOWNEY: You mentioned taking a page from the European playbook. Is there anything in addition to making—or I should put it another way. What kind of role specifically would really help you compete—and other startups in search compete—fairly for that kind of access? Is it prohibiting agreements where Google pays to be the default? Is it setting up some kind of—what would it look like if some government were to say, hey we want choice? What how would they go about doing that?
SRIDHAR RAMASWAMY: So, for example, when you buy a new phone, you go through a setup process. And how search works on any phone is one of the most important decisions that you’re going to make, because it’s your gateway to lots of information. If there is a screen there that mandates that there has to be search choice, things like there should be a rational process for how credible search engines, general search engines, are listed in this charge screen. And the screen needs to be designed in such a way that defaults are not made for the customer. A lot of tech companies hide behind this claim—including Google—hide behind this claim of competition is only a click away. No, most people do not get to the screen where they can make these choices. So a choice screen, with no pre-selection that makes the user decide what it is that they want, in my mind would actually go a long way. The same should apply to the default browser that comes on desktops when they are bought. Just a simple thing would create a lot more competition for search engines and allow companies like Neeva to compete on a fair playing field.
TEDDY DOWNEY: And what’s stopping that from happening now?
SRIDHAR RAMASWAMY: Well, I think at least in the U.S., I think people are still trying to figure out the legal and regulatory framework by which something like that could be established. You folks know this, but the Department of Justice has a lawsuit against the agreement that Google, for example, has with manufacturers like Apple, where they pay a huge amount of money to be the default. Perhaps there is a settlement there that mandates the choice screen. Basically, what’s going on in the U.S. for the past 20, 30 plus years now, we have sort of vaguely come to the conclusion that all antitrust action is bad, that companies are just going to solve all problems, that competition is going to take care of issues.
And we have applied absurd standards, like the consumer welfare standard—which doesn’t even talk about you or me. It talks about, in a vague economic sense—is the standard to apply. First of all, they don’t really apply to free products. And so I would say, we have a lot of work to do in terms of even establishing how something like a choice screen could come about. As I said, the DOJ suing, saying that these default agreements where Google pays money are not legal, perhaps that will lead to a settlement that things like the choice screen are then agreed to.
TEDDY DOWNEY: And what about agreements to pay browsers and things and phones to make Google the default search?
SRIDHAR RAMASWAMY: Well, that is exactly what the DOJ is targeting. They’re saying that it’s not legal for a monopoly player to have agreements like that. Don’t get me wrong. I think that like making browsers and keeping users on your browser is a hard job and user acquisition definitely can take money. I think an agreement between browser makers and the different search engines about whether there should be a surcharge or not, it sounds like that is a business agreement.
So, for example, with Neeva, if a browser were to say, hey, you should pay us a surcharge on subscriptions that you get through users that are acquired, say, via a screen that the browser shows, we would actually be open to that. It is not the revenue sharing between browsers and search engines that I am objecting to. It is the fact that one player is allowed to simply lock it out regardless of economic realities, just based on the fact that they have a dominant position.
TEDDY DOWNEY: And where do you come out on some of the other issues that people complain about Google in terms of their business model of targeted ads—the government’s calling them surveillance ads—and that necessarily leading to a whole host of privacy issues and other issues like all the way to threatening democracy in terms of the types of ways that they try to keep you on the platforms and get information about you and steer you in different directions as a citizen? How do you think about privacy and the Google business model and surveillance ads more generally?
SRIDHAR RAMASWAMY: I mean, this is a long time in the making. In collective delusion, early Internet decided—I mean that in a collective sense—that the advertising model was going to be so amazing that it would pay for all content. In reality, what has happened is that most of the advertising dollars have gone to Google, Facebook and Amazon. It’s become a very top heavy system. So much so that I would say a lot of the benefits of technology scale, things are faster, like hardware is cheaper. It’s more efficient to run a computer today than it was 12 years ago. It’s these large companies that have benefited from most of the scale.
The ad system, the online ad system, at its core is based on tracking—what’s called conversion tracking, which is tracking the efficiency of how ads—the reason why online ads are quite successful is that people are able to decide whether it’s worth showing ads to somebody. Are they actually going to convert and go buy the product?
At one level, conversion tracking can simply be a measurement. But what happens in practice is if the exact same tool that is used to figure out whether somebody that clicked on an ad for a headphone, went and bought the headphone, can now be used to target all people that happened to accidentally look at that page for that particular headphone.
So this is what has led to a world in which every single activity that any of us do is now tracked by hundreds, if not thousands, of companies, all that are trying to show us ads and trying to get us to take to take action. But bad people have also figured out that these exact same mechanisms can also be used for targeted advertising.
So I would say advertising is at the core of a lot of problems with how the online world works. And it affects different companies in different ways. When it comes to somewhat social platforms like Twitter or Facebook or YouTube, all of these platforms have now optimized themselves towards seeking more and more attention because the more attention that you can get from consumers, the more chances you have to show ads to them. And a lot of companies have become like these giant sinks of information for everything that everybody does.
So fundamentally, my belief, and Neeva’s belief, is that like essentially unconsented tracking, no one in their right mind is going to say, I want 5,000 companies to look at every page that I go to and assemble detailed profiles about me. So we think this kind of surreptitious tracking is just evil. It should not be allowed. In fact, at Neeva, we make a browser extension and browsers on iOS and Android that are actively anti-tracking. They stop companies from snooping on you as you go from site to site. The result is that a lot of Neeva users, one of the funny things that they will tell us, is like I feel so much calmer because ads are not chasing me. That’s what the lack of tracking does now in this sort of hyper tracked world.
Again, I think, as a country, we are struggling to find frameworks to figure out how to restrict things like that. All of the things that various companies do are legal with respect to this sort of tracking. And it is only states like California that have passed legislation that lets people easily opt out of things like that. Sadly, I would say the most dramatic action in the tech sector has not come from any legislative or regulatory body, but has actually come from Apple, which decided, for a host of reasons, that they were not going to allow essentially tracking across apps. They basically demanded that an explicit screen be put in front of users asking whether they wanted their behavior to be tracked across apps. And shockingly—not shockingly at all—most people don’t really want that. And this is actually had a significant impact on the ad business of lots of companies, Facebook, Snap, that are all dependent on this kind of information sharing across apps.
I would say overall, the overreliance on ads has led to the weaponization of content, which in turn has led to just like divisive discourse in our country. This combined with the fact that we cling onto things like Section 230, which were fine for the 90s, but completely inappropriate for 2022. I think we are creating a pretty toxic mix in which a lot of bad people can get away with influencing large bodies of the public in some pretty nasty ways.
TEDDY DOWNEY: The FTC currently has a rulemaking process and there is a petition also separately to ban targeted or banned surveillance at. It seems, just thinking about the FTC and how focused they are on creating incentives for businesses that have a good outcome or don’t have, as you put it, an evil outcome, that banning surveillance ads, which obviously would be complicated because defining that would be tricky potentially, but is that, do you think, a solution to privacy—and in some ways some of the competition problem, the monopoly problem in search—would be to ban surveillance advertising? Or what’s your—is that a realistic solution, I guess, from a technical standpoint? Could you replace that with just contextual ads on the Internet? And I was wondering, get inside your mind as an expert on how that could play out and how that would work.
SRIDHAR RAMASWAMY: I mean, banning surveillance ads can be complicated because as I said, it is dual use technology. It is also used for measurement. And the ads lobby is actually exceptionally strong and it becomes very hard for the FTC to unilaterally take action.
The other thing for us to remember, and this is a deliberate choice that’s been made by Congress, the FTC is outgunned and outmatched. They have a requirement, for example, that says that ads need to have a label. I can guarantee you, without naming names, that there is a top ten site on the Internet that does not really label its ads. And I don’t see the FTC taking any action against them. And part of the reason is that they are hopelessly outmatched.
I looked at like how many employees the FTC has, and the last time I checked, it was less than 2,000. I talk to people, you know, just my old colleague, Kent Walker, head of legal at Google, has more lawyers working for him than the FTC has employees. That’s one company. And I think we don’t recognize how large, how much, these companies have grown, how much more complicated today’s environment is compared to 20 years ago. And I think both our lawmaking ability, but also things like the enforcement ability of organizations like the FTC simply does not reflect the reality of what is needed to ensure competition.
And for what it’s worth, I don’t think banning surveillance advertising itself is going to be an answer for the search monopoly problem. I think we have a fair number of complicated problems with excessive concentration of power. One can point to the app stores. One can point to like marketplaces where there’s not enough competition. Search is another area where there is simply not enough competition. I think the problem with surveillance ads is an independent one. But I think we have several other large problems that need to be solved separate.
TEDDY DOWNEY: And I want to talk about your startup company. I obviously run a startup also. I don’t know if I’d call it a startup at this point, but a small media company, or smaller by comparison to the big ones. And I’m curious to get your take on how daunting it is as a startup to take on the concentrated political power. When you go into meetings at the White House and other meetings, what’s it like to deal with not just the lobbyists, but the paid influencers in D.C. I’m talking about economists and think tanks and things like that funded by big tech. Can you give us a sense of how competitors are overmatched from a political standpoint? You gave us a good sort of nugget there on how the FTC is overmatched, but I’m curious about the sort of concentrated political power you run up against.
SRIDHAR RAMASWAMY: I mean, there’s enormous power. I would say we run into issues with browsers. We run into issues with carriers. We run into issues with companies. They all have long and very tangled agreements with companies like Google and don’t really want to upset the apple cart in any way. And even promising legislation for changing some of these things, like the ones that we have through the summer, will mysteriously disappear when it is crunch time. Yeah, taking on something like search and saying you’re going to create a new, a better, search engine is definitely not for the faint of heart.
But the additional wrinkle is that even if you were to take such a problem on and create a great product, as I said, just getting consumer mindshare and easy adoption is incredibly difficult. Even if you were to voluntarily switch your search engine from Google to Neeva on Chrome by Google, Chrome would throw up a very deceptive warning that is craftily designed to make you go back to using Google as a search engine. And so it’s really things like that, the difficulty of getting in front of users, that’s also a significant issue. And as I said, legislation will mysteriously disappear when it comes to like the crunch time. This has happened and happened this year.
Yeah, so this is going to require a very concerted effort by lots of people, and definitely our Congresspeople and Senators, for there to be meaningful change. But I think they recognize that there is enormous concentration of power, enormous concentration of wealth, that these tech companies are not creating broad based wealth and in many ways are effectively an additional tax on all of us.
I point to the fact that Google easily makes $50 plus billion just on search ads in the United States. That’s more than $150 per living person in our country. Anyone that wants to—any business that wants to reach a potential customer has to pay a toll either to the app stores or to the search engines or to one of the large social media companies. And so I would say these have almost become like extra governmental authorities in terms of how much power and influence and just sheer revenue that they collect. So yeah, it is pretty daunting.
TEDDY DOWNEY: One of the things Google likes to tout and say is, look, this is just Google being successful. It’s a superior search engine and that’s why it’s got such a high market share. I wonder if you can kind of maybe explain what’s not superior about it, why it’s getting worse. I mean, as a customer, any time I’m using Google—which I try not to, but it is the default on a lot of things—but I just get a huge page of ads on my phone or whatever. And it’s kind of hard to find the link, which obviously I would think of as less than ideal. I mean, it’s certainly inferior to the way that it used to be. So I have this one example of it being worse for me. But as an expert, and someone who used to work there, what do you see as things that are the worsening of Google and sort of the vulnerability of that argument that it’s a better search engine? That’s what you hear a lot from the sort of proponents of Google in Washington.
SRIDHAR RAMASWAMY: First of all, there’s nothing wrong in being a monopoly, as you know. You can make a great product. Google had a great product. That is why it had market share. It was also an incredibly shrewd company in terms of the business relationships that it cultivated, the amazing genius that was Android, which came out of nowhere. There’s a lot of positives on that side. And, like I said, there’s nothing wrong in being a monopoly with a small “M”.
What is not okay is how, after becoming a monopoly, like one wants to ensure that there can never be any competition. The fact that Google has the search market locked up with prohibitive arrangements with everyone, whether it’s a PC manufacturer or a phone manufacturer or even Apple, for that matter, is what is extremely problematic. There can be no competitor to Google because Google ensures that it’s very hard for a new company to break through. That is what is unacceptable about the current situation.
There are different ways to think about the search experience. Google has not invented the perfect search experience. At Neeva, for example, by starting with the customer, we are able to think about search very, very differently. We let you do things, like decide whether you want to not see, I don’t know, Amazon or Walmart or some other site in your search. Some people prefer that. Google has no incentive in offering a feature like that because that would be very detrimental for ad revenue.
We emphasize authority sites. When you look for medical sites, we don’t show ads. We understand that someone being depressed and trying to figure out what to do is in a very vulnerable situation. At that point, we’re going to show you a page from the Mayo Clinic, not like some prescription drug maker whose name you have never heard of that offers themselves as a choice for mental health problems. And we think by putting the user first, we are able to think about search very differently. And we think we are well on our way to creating a superior product because of our relentless focus on users.
Google just can’t do that. Whenever there is even a sniff of commerciality in a credit, Google is happy to accept ads from whoever that is. I’ll give you a specific example. I just for fun did this study what to do in a car accident on my phone, on Google and on Neeva. On Neeva, we show you a step-by-step, which is like get out of the car if you are actually like—make sure you get the phone number of the other person. Make sure you’re safe. While Google has not one, not two, four ads from lawyers all wanting to represent you as answers for discovering what to do in a car accident.
And so the original mission of Google to make the world’s information the best that there is available to you is sort of long gone in the rearview mirror. It is an ad dominated experience. And even the organic experience hasn’t really changed a whole lot. We dare to think that all of these can be done differently, can be much more useful, if we put the user first. And as I said, there’s nothing wrong in being a monopoly. But using that monopoly position to ensure that no competition can arise, that’s very problematic. That’s exactly what Google’s doing.
TEDDY DOWNEY: We had a podcast recently with Jeff Horowitz, The Wall Street Journal reporter, and the author of the Facebook Files series. And he described Facebook as a place where they had these ethics, these ethicists basically, these people doing reports and making recommendations for how to change the algorithm to Facebook to be less damaging to the public in a variety of ways. And Zuckerberg and other executives always chose to not do that because it would have a slight detrimental effect on growth.
SRIDHAR RAMASWAMY: Yep.
TEDDY DOWNEY: And I’m wondering if you view that as systemic across all the monopolies with ad surveillance, ad business models, Google and then even a place like Twitter? And how you think about not doing that, not being faced with that choice? Or how Neeva faces different choices and challenges that would avoid that or not. I’m curious how you think about that and how much of this rests on the executive at the executive level and sort of amoral decision-making there.
SRIDHAR RAMASWAMY: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know the specifics of that one, but there is a lot of pressure to keep making money. A lot of the big companies, they hire a lot of people. And they hire a lot of people and give them the expectation that the stock is going to keep going up in value. And so there is a lot of pressure to keep showing results for Wall Street.
You know, a smart executive can essentially decide to not launch or not take up certain changes simply by asking questions or suggesting reviews like, yes, I want the positive benefit that this change can provide. But can you please go do some more research for three more months to figure out how we can make this same money but keep the benefits that you have? And so it is easy to sort of put off difficult decisions essentially perpetually.
I’ll tell you of a funny—like this is basically a product review that I had with one of my own teams at Google almost ten years ago. One of my friends, actually, Rachel, who used to run Com at Google, used to complain bitterly about remarketing ads and how they were hounding her to be like, I already bought these shoes. You don’t have to show ads for that 100 times everywhere I go.
And so I had an argument with them, with my team, about whether they could reduce the frequency of these remarketing ads. I’m like, why do you need to show whatever frequency and ads 20 times by the time you’ve shown it to them five times? Maybe you should take the hint and assume that they’re not going to click on it. Can you give me a tradeoff between lowering ad impressions, the number of times an ad is shown and revenue.
And they were good engineers. They came back and said, oh, we can reduce the number of remarketing ad impressions by 50 percent and it would lose like a quarter percent of revenue. And they, not I, would be arguing—then went onto argue with me—and say this does not make any rational sense. There is no evidence to show that the additional impressions are causing any harm, not by the way in which we can measure things. And you’re just leaving money on the table. And by the way, Sridhar, if we don’t show these impressions, some other ad network is going to show it. And so we should just keep doing what we’re doing.
So smart people come up with all kinds of different ways in which they can always focus on revenue and squeeze as much out as possible. You know, really Google was not like this. They was a conscious decision to make tradeoff between user quality and revenue. Eric Schmidt early on famously had the 50/50 mantra that he wanted half of the gains that he got from a great positive launch to go to user quality and the other half to go to revenue. But over time, even during my time, there was an increased emphasis on revenue and that really continues.
Now with Neeva, this is why we set the true North Star. We focus on what’s right for the user. We only make money that users give to us via subscription. So if you go to Neeva.com, you’re not going to see ads. You’re not going to even see affiliate links. This is another game that the Internet plays. There are, again, reputable sites who will put links to products and say anytime one of you click on these links and go to Amazon, we get paid a small commission. Please don’t worry. It’s a respectable way to make money. I think about incentives a lot. We try to align with the user, try to give them a great experience, try to give them a worry free experience. And we hope we are essentially laying the groundwork for what will be a sustainable company and business by having these early on in how the entire company thinks and operates.
TEDDY DOWNEY: You mentioned a few policy ideas. Are there any that we haven’t covered? Or is there any litigation that you’re looking at? Is there anything that you think, all right, these are these are good solutions? These are things that the government, the U.S. and Europe and others, should look at for solving either the competition problems that you see and the privacy problems?
SRIDHAR RAMASWAMY: A few things I think government should focus not on very detailed regulation like GDPR. Every time I come back to Europe, it’s been like—I think I was here last year, I’m in London now. I realize that GDPR has been taken over by companies. They have become experts at showing prompts that annoy, that actually don’t confer any choice on the part of the user. So I think both governments and regulatory bodies need to focus on broad things like competition, like visibility for others. This is why I point out the choice stream.
Similarly, I think things like mandating interoperability can be something that they can pay attention to. I’m not saying this is a trivial problem, but the way to think about this is if Facebook and Google and Twitter had invented email, let’s say, like in 2018, guaranteed we would not be able to email each other today. This whole notion of interoperable systems would just not exist. So I think like focusing on interoperability would be, you know, I think it is really, really important.
And then in terms of basic rights, I would say data portability. So that you can easily take your contacts from one application and your information from one application and move it to another application is something that, again, the government can definitely mandate a much better job on. There are some tricky privacy issues here. I’m not saying these are trivial. But I think these are the places where they can have an enormous impact.
And finally, I would say that for us to pretend that everything that happens on Twitter and YouTube, on Facebook or even on TikTok, for us to think that this is all free speech, I think is absurd. I think Section 230 needs to have a massive overhaul where there is distinction between content that a user has voluntarily thought. If I follow you on Twitter and I see your tweets. I want them. I made that choice. If, on the other hand, one of your buddies happens to post something inflammatory and Twitter decides that they’re going to recommend that tweet to me, I don’t think that should be protected by Section 230. I think recommended content, especially one that does algorithmic amplification, needs to be treated as decisions that tech companies are making. So I think this whole area of Section 30 needs a pretty big rethink in the modern world. I think it’s ripe for change. So these are broadly things that I think would put us in a much better place.
But foundational things, I would say, is true competition leads to better products. There is an incredible amount of competition, for example, in streaming providers. I could not be happier. Yes, it’s a mess. And sometimes you don’t get to see what you want, But I think of that as a good thing. The more competition that there is in our key functions, whether it is search, whether it is a browser, whether it is in how we conduct commerce or how we ship things from one place to another, all the essential aspects of modern life, I think the better off we will be. Large companies are bad, not because largeness is bad, but when they are as big as the economies of some countries, a company which ultimately answers to one person, the CEO and a limited number of shareholders, is by definition anti-democratic. It does not serve the will of all of us. Our governments do. So this is why I think competition is really important.
TEDDY DOWNEY: Well, I don’t have any more questions from the audience. We do have a lot of businesses and organizations on here. Can they sign up individually or as an entity to Neeva and get a subscription? Or do you have those set up so the listeners can enjoy this innovation and the privacy protecting search that you allow for your customers?
SRIDHAR RAMASWAMY: Absolutely. Anyone can sign up. You just go to the Neeva.com. And yes, we guarantee privacy from the get-go. But we also promise you an amazing product that is continuously getting better. We support them. It’s not a launched feature. If you would like to get Neeva for your company, drop me a line, CEO@Neeva.com and I can connect you with folks on my team that can make that happen. Yeah, please give us a role. We have also amazing apps on both Android and on Apple. And yeah, it’s one single icon that you can use across desktop and on any number of devices. The basic product is free to try. But things like personal connectors, personal preferences, just being able to do a lot more with it, in addition to getting things like a password manager and a VPN, that’s what the premium tier offers. Truly a great deal. Please check us out. Neeva.com.
TEDDY DOWNEY: And one more question, just because I think about this a lot. In terms of the benefit of having more privacy enabled for your employees in particular, your colleagues, we get a lot of phishing and we get a lot of like targeted sort of solicitations, but also phishing attacks and things like that. Is there a clear benefit to not sharing your information from just an organizational standpoint? Like, is it an important way to protect you from these sort of like targeted attacks? Is that a benefit from this kind of thinking? I mean, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how do we deal with this as an organization? Is that something that you see from your customers, that they’re benefiting from having a less targeted, fewer targeted ads following them all around the Internet?
SRIDHAR RAMASWAMY: I think the widespread like just collection of information, including things like your email addresses, can be problematic. They do lead to phishing attacks. Ads on a vector for this, Jeffrey Fowler from The Washington Post recently wrote an article about how ads can be a vector for these phishing attacks that try to steal your credit card and things like that. And so by preventing tracking, by not showing ads, we make it much easier for you to get at the content that you want.
And a frequent thing that happens on mobile, especially on your phones, by the way, is when you search for something like a State Farm, you’re going to typically do that under duress. That is a problem. You need to reach like an insurance agent or someone else and you are in a hurry. Even close friends of mine that are tech savvy, they have clicked on the wrong phone link because they assume that whatever link that is put up on top must indeed be the company that they are searching for. So they have ended up talking to the wrong person, the wrong company. I mean, fortunately for my friend, she realized that after 20 minutes and kind of hung up and called the right people. There are wide problems like that as well.
But the thing that I find sort of depressing about this ad world is it can feel very adversarial. It’s like folks out to trick you sort of all the time. And you avoid a lot of that by stopping the tracking, by not having ads when you are searching so that you can focus on what you need. I think of the basic elements of sort of a thing like online life is a combination of an ad blocker, and then a password manager because all of us do need to manage a lot of passwords, and a private search engine with like tracking prevention builtin, something like Neeva. My life is a lot quieter and I just get more things done, more focused, as a result of just these three things.
TEDDY DOWNEY: Well, I appreciate you taking all the time and sharing your expertise. I’ve enjoyed reading your thoughts and seeing you advocate for these issues. And I think it has a really outsized influence over the discourse in Washington, which is why we cover it so closely. So I can’t thank you enough for doing this. Good luck with your with your search engine. And we look forward to seeing the growth of your company.
SRIDHAR RAMASWAMY: Thank you, so much, Teddy. Really appreciate the time and I appreciate the conversation.
TEDDY DOWNEY: And thanks to everyone else for joining us today. And this concludes the call.