Leif Lundbæk here, CEO of Xayn. Many of you may know us from our work in AI and privacy, while others think we’re doing something with blockchain. You may also know us from our collaborations with great household names like Porsche, Siemens, or Deutsche Bahn.
All of that is true: Over the near four years of our firm’s existence, we've built one of the most sophisticated tech stacks for privacy-preserving AI. XayNet is completely open-source and allows other AI companies around the world to build stunning AI products that are also totally privacy-preserving. After all, privacy is a fundamental human right for every online tech user, not a vanity project or something reserved for users that have bad things to hide.
What we do with this our technology is nothing less than fight for the fundamental human right to privacy – an absolute necessity in the ever-increasing digital world we all live in. Unfortunately, privacy often tends to be forgotten or traded in for the sake of convenience. Over the last 20 years, many Big Tech players have made big efforts in trying to convince users that trade-offs between privacy and convenience are inevitable if we are to advance the digital service landscape. We beg to differ.
We’ve always talked the talk, but we wanted to walk the walk as well: One year ago, we began transforming our entire organisation into a genuinely privacy-preserving company. From migrating to an EU-only cloud for all back-end services to killing all of tracking services on our website, the list of tools we had to let go of or replace was very long.
We had a sad realisation: It's painful to look at the current privacy tech landscape. There are many great products out there, but others are still quite half-baked in many respects. We think that privacy tech should provide no lesser of a user experience than the incumbent it’s replacing.
A new generation of privacy tech is forming, one in which great technological advancement and privacy go hand in hand as opposed to obstructing each other. This is true for the features provided, as well as general usability and – what cannot be repeated often enough – design.
One year ago, we realised that one of the most painful tools to replace was the search engine. We didn't want to use Google anymore, and we simply didn't like any of the search alternatives out there. Here’s why:
Google is by far the top dog of the search engines with an almost unbeatable market share. It delivers great search results with the largest website index and its convenience seems out of reach. But this great user benefit comes at a heavy price: The fundamental human right to privacy. Search engines like Google will learn your query history and detailed contextual information about your queries. These capabilities are baked into the system architecture. If these web search providers also offer you other services such as email, they can then create an ever-richer context that understands your behaviour and intentions.
Major web search providers like Google also host digital platforms. The information they gather about you allows them to make predictions about your future behaviour, and even nudge it: You can be convinced to buy a particular product, endorse a message on social media, and so forth.
This challenges our basic understanding of autonomy and control over our own affairs. It equally questions whether we can maintain protective walls around our personal spaces as the digital reach of these providers may turn our intimate spaces into ones that are public to them.
We aren’t the first to realise this about Google, so let’s look at the search underdogs – those who are putting up a fight. There are some web search providers that offer better privacy. There are also many that claim to offer great privacy, but factually don't. Others might have had other noble intentions. In every case, a crucial aspect was missing: The ability to deliver to users relevant search results instantly. That is a search engine’s 'raison d'étre', but it’s extremely difficult to achieve.
Other factors that threw us off from becoming alternative search engine users are their interface designs and general usability, as well as other factors such as branding. Searching for information is inarguably one of the main activities that happen online. When we use something so often, it should just work, it should also be visually appealing, and you should enjoy using it. So, while all of the alternatives are made with good intentions, we weren’t convinced that they’re ready to be mainstream search engines.
One last thing to mention is one problem that all the top dogs and underdogs have in common: None of them give many insights into why a particular search result is shown to us. Search engines serve as information gateways, so they should have a specific ethical responsibility. The sad truth is: There is a lack of transparency in the search business that's so prevalent it isn't even funny anymore. Here, we were using search engines day in, day out, and hardly anyone would ever ask: Why is this result here even shown to me?
So bottom line to what was our very simple, yet also very painful starting point is this: We wanted an end to all those trade-offs we were facing when searching the web. We wanted the convenience of a truly efficient search engine, which can only be achieved with personalisation. But we also wanted it to be truly private. We didn't want any users to be tracked around and to have their data collected and sold as advertisement profiles. And foremost: users – and not some algorithm – should have the control over what search results are shown. To us, that is web search as it should be – and the fundamental idea behind Xayn.
Our XayNet tech stack is so powerful that we can use it to realise this massive undertaking. Granted, building a true search engine is not trivial! We decided to take this leap forward and bring to the market a new search engine. That is how Xayn was born and we're very proud to announce that Xayn is now finally going public after a year of beta development.
Xayn is available for download in the App Store and Play Store. And before you ask: Yes, a browser version is also following very soon. But as the vast majority of all searches are coming from mobile devices, it was natural to start with a mobile application first.
So, let's make privacy available for everyone!
Co-founder and CEO