Ghostery’s Making a Privacy Browser—and Ad-Free Search Engine

The internet runs on advertising, and that includes search engines. Google brought in $26 billion of search revenue in the most recent quarter alone. Yes, billion. As that business has grown, it’s reshaped what search looks like. Year after year, ads have gobbled up more space on its results pages, pushing organic results further out of view. Which is why using Ghostery’s new ad-free search engine and desktop browser, even in their pre-beta form, feels at once like a throwback to a simpler internet and a glimpse of a future where browsing that puts results ahead of revenue is once again possible.If you’re familiar with Ghostery already, it’s likely through its incarnation as a popular open-source browser extension that blocks trackers and ads. It also maintains a mobile browser for Android and iOS, the former of which has been installed over a million times. Over 7 million people use Ghostery products; a single-digit percentage of them have paid for one of the company’s subscription services. Earlier this year, the company saw an opportunity to expand on its core mission of making digital privacy available to the masses.
“We’ve been building the extensions for a long time,” says Ghostery president Jeremy Tillman. “But at the end of the day you’re playing by somebody else’s rules. We thought that we could do a lot more if we played by our own rules.”
Courtesy of Ghostery
That “somebody else” almost always means Google. The desktop browser and internet search races are not what one might call competitive. As of October, Google’s Chrome browser claimed 69 percent market share; its closest competition, Microsoft’s Edge and Mozilla’s Firefox, hovered at around 7.5 percent, according to NetMarketShare. From month to month, the numbers barely change. And that dominance pales in comparison to search, where analytics firm StatCounter says Google fields close to 93 percent of all queries.
Which is to say that building an alternative to Google these days can feel like a quixotic undertaking. German startup Cliqz, which acquired Ghostery in 2017, abandoned its efforts to build a privacy-first search engine from scratch in April. “In the long run, we have no chance against an overpowering opponent such as Google, which dominates the market in every aspect,” wrote Cliqz cofounder Jean-Paul Schmetz at the time. “We are deeply sorry to say goodbye to colleagues who have shown great commitment and passion in achieving our vision.”

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