Startup Of The Week

Startup Of The Week: Qwant

Qwant, a search engine that indexes the web while protecting users’ privacy, is benefiting from both the backlash brewing against the way data privacy is handled by Silicon Valley companies and the implementation of GDPR, Europe’s tough new privacy law.

And it is gunning for more business from businesses, including hospitals and banks.

The French company, which operates in 28 languages in 42 countries, does not use third party cookies, trackers, behavioral targeting or feature native advertising. Its business model is based on general advertisements, the same business model that Google used when it first launched.

Now, Qwant is becoming a portal, like Google, adding a host of new services: messaging (Qwant Mail), maps (Qwant Maps) and sports (Qwant Sports). It already has a specialized search engine for music and one especially designed for kids, which filters content.

As part of its efforts to attract more business customers, it is launching Qwant Med, targeted at hospitals, doctors and researchers handling confidential medical records and another service called Qwant Pay which aims to introduce a European e-wallet that would not only allow banks to protect their customers’ information but serve as an alternative to e-wallets developed by Google, Apple, Visa and Mastercard.

Qwant said it has seen the number of visitors climb from 48 million to 70 million in the five months since Cambridge Analytica was accused of using data it improperly obtained from Facebook to build voter profiles and influence the U.S. voter elections. It is actively courting business customers such as France’s Thales, who want to comply with GDPR, Europe’s tough new privacy law.

“Whether they be large banks or insurance companies or SMES — all they have to do is choose Qwant and they will be GDPR compliant from day one,” Qwant CEO Eric Leandri said in an interview with The Innovator.

Beyond GPDR, there is a movement afoot to use technologies to safeguard data privacy in ways that could profoundly change the way the Internet and social networks operate and — in the opinion of some government officials, entrepreneurs, and investors — better reflect European values.

“Data is a new form of power, one more reason to envision another way to treat data and I believe that Qwant opens the way for this,” Bruno Le Maire, the French Finance Minister, said at the June 14 launch event at Qwant’s new headquarters in Paris’ 16th arrondissement. “It is a response to all the skeptics that thought that France and Europe were not capable to develop digital tools at the same level as the Americans.”

Le Maire said it is important that technology used by Europeans reflect European values, including the right to privacy.

Launched in 2013, Qwant’s aim is to become a European alternative to Google with the promise to respect the private life of users. Today it carries about 6% of France’s search traffic, 1.5% of Germany’s and 1% of Italy’s. “Our growth rate is about 20% per month per country,” says Leandri.

Expansion into new sectors — such as Qwant Med, which connects hospitals, doctors and researchers so that they can analyze anonymized patient data — is expected to help bolster the business. Qwant Med’s launch comes as DeepMind, a UK-based Google-owned artificial intelligence company is coming under increasing fire for the way it handles medical data.

The latest concerns were voiced by a panel of external reviewers appointed by DeepMind to report on its operations after its initial data-sharing arrangements with the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) ran into a major public controversy in 2016.

The DeepMind Health Independent Reviewers’ 2018 report flags a series of risks and concerns, as they see it, including the potential for DeepMind Health to be able to “exert excessive monopoly power” as a result of the data access and streaming infrastructure that’s bundled with provision of the Streams app — and which, contractually, positions DeepMind as the access-controlling intermediary between the structured health data and any other third parties that might, in the future, want to offer their own digital assistance solutions to the National Health Service.

Just as Qwant Med gives hospitals and national health services an alternative to working with Google, Qwant Pay, a new e-wallet being launched by Qwant in parternship with Barcelona-based Toro, aims to give banks a European alternative to U.S. players.

Google and Apple are both able to dictate terms to banks for e-wallet services. And, Visa and Mastercard have a stranglehold on the use of token systems for credit cards via mobile phones. Qwant Pay, a partnership between Qwant and Barcelona-based Toro, plan to launch their service in September. The first customer will be a large French bank. The hope is that other banks will quickly follow suit as the advantage of using Qwant Pay is that, unlike Silicon Valley players mit does not collect the banks’ user data ,says Toro CEO Laurent Renard

The aim is for Qwant Pay to become an open platform for banks in the same way that China’s WeChat serves as a platform for commerce, he says.

About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.