Whenever you search for something on Google, your data is sent to the company's servers, including details about your most intimate desires and queries you wouldn't think of sharing with a stranger on the streets. That's where privacy-minding alternatives like DuckDuckGo come in, but they won't give you personalized results at all in order to protect your data. The Berlin-based tech company Xayn wants to change that with its new privacy-centric search engine, trying to give you the best of both worlds: Personalized results without all the tracking.
"Until now, the user experience depended mostly on how much data companies collected about their users," explains co-founder Michael Huth. "The more data was collected for profiling and personalization, the better the user experience was guaranteed to be. But in that approach, users lose their privacy. We want to change this because privacy is a fundamental human right."
Xayn's interface shouldn't be too unfamiliar for anyone who used Google before. The app is divided into five bottom tab sections that loosely resemble those found in the Google app: A Discover Feed-like home screen, your history, search, collections, and settings.
Xayn is fully embracing bottom navigation.
Xayn's Discover Feed alternative gives you a selection of news articles based on your device's language, slowly becoming personalized as you interact with them (you can change your location/language in settings). The process can be accelerated by swiping on articles: Right to signal you dislike something, and left to give a thumbs-up. There are also options for sharing and saving to collections hidden here. You can find the latter in their own bottom bar, and like Google's pendant, they're pretty useful if you need a curated record of your visited pages.
The same swiping actions are available for search results: You first get the results any new user would get, but your personal on-device algorithm slowly learns your preferences. If you want unpersonalized results, you can quickly turn off personalization by tapping the Xayn AI button in the top right corner. That's much easier than the two-step process Google requires (Tap your account image -> Use without an account).
Xayn comes with an in-app browser that embraces bottom navigation, but unfortunately, it still feels a bit unpolished, with rather lengthy loading times and occasional scrolling jank. That's also an issue for the rest of the app at times. But these are optimization problems that will hopefully be fixed over the coming months, and they don't negate the real advantage of the search engine: Its privacy-centric approach.
- Your AI: Turn your AI on for unique search results – as unique as you. Turn your AI off if you don’t want to experience personalized search results.
- AI Swiping: Puts you in control with handy right or left swipe actions to approve or dislike specific search results. That way, you quickly find what you’re really looking for.
- Intuitive Interface: Xayn’s interface is designed to make your life easier, including details such as a one-hand control and zero-click search for effortless interaction with the app.
- Your Collections: You can collect, store, and sort through your favorite web content so that you won’t lose any information.
- Your Home Screen: Your home screen is your own personal feed of the entire web, determined by you, and curated for you exclusively by Xayn. You stay in full control and get continuously inspired by the variety of the web.
In the background, Xayn dynamically prioritizes and classifies results on your phone, pulling from various sources such as Bing, YouTube, Pinterest, and Wikipedia. The custom open-source algorithm is supported by four AI models focused on language processing, interest clusters, domain preferences, and personalized contextualization.
To improve the algorithm without compromising on privacy, the company combines encrypted AI models that were trained by individual users and synchronizes them into a collective model which is fed back to the individual devices. Actual usage data and results are never shared.
All that said, there are some disadvantages inherent to the privacy-centric approach. You can't sync your personal search results and collections over multiple devices. The company also hasn't launched a web version of its search engine, so you're limited to your phone for the privacy-minding personalized search results. For now, it's also impossible to fully remove unwanted publications from the home screen, so there's some work ahead.
Xayn is launching on the Play Store (and the App Store) today, and you can download it for free. The company has received funding to get started, but in the future, it wants to use a combination of business-to-business and business-to-customer monetization similar to Zoom.