Is privacy possible on the Internet? An interview with Neeva founder and former Google exec Sridhar Ramaswamy

On Dec 13th, a new search engine, described by some as the “anti-google” called Neeva will be available to use in Canada.  We wrote about this in itworldcanada.com. It allows people to browse the internet free of web tracking and promises to pay content creators for the use of their work.

Neeva has already been launched in the US in 2021 and most recently in Europe.

We have the CEO and founder of Neeva, Sridhar Ramaswamy with us today on Hashtag Trending the Weekend Edition.

Our topic is – privacy and the internet – there’s two words that only go together when we are talking about a “lack or privacy.” Neeva is a response to that, but it’s also an attempt to change the model of how internet services are provided.

The economic model of the internet and social media for that matter, is based on trading your private information for features and services that we want – but don’t want to pay for.

Every service you use for free, be it Facebook or Twitter or Google Search or even your favourite website is, to some extent, monetizing your data.

It happened to us slowly.  At first, the internet was “non-commercial.”  It was freedom – a brave new digital world.

That new digital utopia did not last long.  Someone had to pay for it.

Corporations built sites and we started to see advertising.  It was no longer the great utopia, but it was still a model we understood.  We’d had it on TV and radio for years.  We got free programming but the trade-off was, we had to listen to ads every 7 minutes.

But somewhere along the line, advertisers and service providers realized that this new medium was different than TV or radio. They could track you and everything you do.  It could gather very, very specific knowledge about you – could know almost everything about you – from your interactions.

It isn’t always obvious and while we might have been aware that others were gathering our data, I don’t think it was until the big Facebook scandal where a firm called Cambridge Analytica with an app called This is Your Digital Life, harvested – without permission – the data of 87 million Facebook profiles and used that data to drive the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.

The company claimed that it could, from reading likes and dislikes – predict who you would vote for and a whole lot more – including deeply personal things up to and including your sexual preferences.  It could not just advertise to you.  It could psychologically target you, influence and some would say, manipulate you.

People who had been up to that point, not particularly concerned, now started to realize the power that their data could wield in the hands of the unscrupulous.  Some were fearful. Many resented it.

An online movement #Delete Facebook trended on Twitter.

Facebook apologized.

Facebook was fined 5 billion dollars by the Federal Trade Commission.

Governments started to look at new legislation – led by Europe but spreading to Canada and the US.

People and governments started questioning the impact of data used in algorithms which use our data to radicalize people and promote hate groups and hate speech.

It’s no longer a case of trading a few moments of your attention for a product.  It’s potentially about trading your  most private information and potentially having that leveraged against you, not to win you over, but to manipulate you, even, some might say, to control you.

But are we able to have a much wider discussion about what is private, what is proper, what requires regulation?

From the ashes of resentment and anger, some enterprising entrepreneurs have moved to redefine our digital interactions and create new digital products and services that change the business model. Will they provide a way to protect personal privacy? Can the business model of the internet be changed?

Join us for this fascinating discussion with Neeva founder of Neeva Sridhar Ramaswamy on Hashtag Trending the Weekend Edition.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jim Love
Jim Lovehttp://www.changethegame.ca
I've been in IT and business for over 30 years. I worked my way up, literally from the mail room and I've done every job from mail clerk to CEO. Today I'm CIO and Chief Digital Officer of IT World Canada - Canada's leader in ICT publishing and digital marketing.

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