Why Privacy-Focused Search Engines Won’t Overtake Google

People need more to entice them

Key Takeaways

  • Brave has launched its own privacy-focused web search engine to compete with Google and Bing.
  • While a nice push, experts say it needs more than just privacy to pull consumers away from the big hitters in the market, like Google.
  • Even if they can’t pull users from other search engines, moves by smaller players in the field could push Google and others to respond similarly.
Cropped hands of person writing in notebook while using a laptop

Kiyoshi Hijiki / EyeEm / Getty Images

Despite the extra privacy features new search engines like Brave offer, experts say enhanced privacy isn’t enough to sway the general public from their usual search options.

Consumer privacy continues to be at the center of a lot of tech conversations. One of the most recent announcements includes the release of a new search engine from the makers of Brave, a privacy-focused browser. The search engine is available in beta right now and promises users more privacy than other options out there—like Google or Bing. Experts, however, say better protection, alone, isn’t enough to pull users from the heavy hitters that dominate the search market.

"We’re happy to see that privacy is gaining momentum," Leif-Nissen Lundbæk, a privacy expert and CEO of privacy-focused development company Xayn, told Lifewire in an email. "However, I believe that privacy all by itself won’t be enough to pull the vast majority of users away from established search giants like Google. You also have to offer them a convincing user experience and convenience so that they don’t lose precious time when searching for information online."

Missing Pieces

If new search engines want to pull users away from other search engines, they’ve got their work cut out for them. Google, while one of the biggest aggregators of your online personal data, continues to hold a 92% share of the search engine market. In fact, if you ask the majority of everyday consumers, they’ll most likely equate searching the web to "googling," because it has become such a staple name in online searches.

So, if Brave—or any other search engine—wants to make a serious dent in the current hold Google has, it’s going to need more than just "better privacy." Lundbæk says one important part of making a search engine useful to users is to make it as productive as possible.

"Privacy all by itself won’t be enough to pull the vast majority of users away from established search giants like Google."

"If you can combine privacy, transparency, and productivity, you’ve managed to create the sweet spot that will convince people to switch to search alternatives and stick to them," he explained.

Brave already has a stable user base thanks to the success of its browser, which passed 25 million monthly active users back in February 2021. As such, the new search engine could find a home among the many users who already rely on Brave to protect their online data. As for those 2.65 billion users who run Chrome as their primary browser, the chances of Brave’s big push for privacy pulling them away are rather slim, says Lundbæk.

Making Strides

What is important about the push for more privacy-focused search engines, though, is that they could lead to better privacy on Google, itself. We’ve seen multiple times over the past few years where Google has found itself pushed into a corner and forced to shift its goals on consumer privacy. 

"Many of the best ideas brought to market by these smaller players have eventually become features offered by the market-leading browsers," Rob Shavell, a privacy expert and CEO of DeleteMe, told Lifewire in an email. "The push toward 'better real privacy' online by smaller players is part of what has motivated Apple and Google to push their own privacy initiatives this year."

Brave Search engine as is appears in the Brave browser

Brave

If more search engines like Brave, and even DuckDuckGo, can pull more users in with that promise of privacy, it could lead to shifts on the larger engines. And, if these new engines fail to do so, the hope from privacy advocates is it will at least open the eyes of more consumers to the importance of protecting their data when online.

"Far more work needs to be done to educate the public on how all aspects of their online experience are always being tracked in some way," Shavell explained.

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