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A ‘Green’ Search Engine Sees Danger in the Generative AI Revolution

It also sees opportunities

In the era of search wars fought between giants, it's tough to be small. Berlin-based Ecosia offers a search engine for the climate-conscious, promising to be carbon-negative by investing all of its profits into planting trees—more than 180 million of them since it launched in 2009. It's unlikely to topple Google, but it has won a stable clientele of around 20 million users with that green branding and by repackaging search results from Microsoft's Bing. But after a decade of little change in the search business, everything is now in flux, thanks to generative AI.

"I've never seen so much change in the market as in the last six months," said Christian Kroll, Ecosia's CEO.

The tumult has forced Ecosia to rethink its business plan in order to compete with new chatbot-like search engines built on large language models. Today, the company began switching from providing results exclusively from Microsoft's Bing, as it has for the past 14 years, to primarily sourcing them from Google—though it will still syndicate some Bing results via marketing company System 1. At the beginning of the year, Kroll said, Ecosia "got some signals from Microsoft that kind of triggered us to be a bit more on the lookout for other potential providers." In March, Microsoft hiked its prices for search results, which was "a wake-up call for alternative search engines," according to Kroll. Microsoft declined to comment.

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