Xayn Launches Web Search As It Should Be: Convenient, Controllable, and Private
Smart search alternative ushers in the new generation of user-friendly privacy tech
- Xayn combines privacy, control over its algorithms, and convenience
- The privacy tech, made in Europe, uses edge AI for accurate results
- From Berlin to the world: Xayn is available now (iOS/Android)
Berlin, 8 December 2020 – Today, the German tech company Xayn launches its privacy-protecting search alternative. It empowers users to take back control over their data and their search results with a smooth, personalised, and transparent search experience. Xayn is based on the latest research in privacy-protecting AI and stands for transparency and ethical AI made in Europe.
Until now, search engines have provided either a profiled search experience or an unprofiled, but private, search. Xayn combines, for the first time, privacy with individualised, preference-driven personalisation to provide relevant search results without the expense of the human right to privacy.
In addition, Xayn enables users to have control over its search algorithms. By swiping left or right on the results, users can influence what is shown to them and can teach the algorithms which results they want to see more of in the future. Users are put in the driver’s seat for the information that’s shown to them for specific search queries.
Private, transparent, and ethical AI from Europe
“I’ve always hated having to choose between privacy and convenience when searching online. I also found it creepy that I didn’t know why certain results were shown to me by the algorithms. Despite all that, I was still using established search giants, because I lost too much time finding what I was looking for with the privacy alternatives,” explains Leif Nissen Lundbæk, co-founder and CEO at Xayn. “I – like many other users – was simply stuck in this trade-off where the user is always the loser. That’s why my co-founders and I decided to build a search alternative with no compromises. Xayn combines privacy, convenience, and user control.”
Xayn provides digital privacy, transparency, and ethical AI from Europe – in line with the Digital Decade proclaimed by the EU Commission. The goal: To give users control over their personal data. Privacy is a key issue for people around the world: Current data from the 2019 Cyber Security Insights Report shows that 92% of surveyed online users worldwide have at least one significant concern about their data privacy. But even though more than two-thirds of those surveyed (67%) are more alarmed than ever about threats to their privacy, 64% still accept certain risks to their online privacy to make their lives more convenient. The fact that search queries make up around 30% of all global website traffic further underlines the need for a true privacy-protecting and convenient search alternative.
“Until now, the user experience depended mostly on how much data companies collected about their users. The more data was collected for profiling and personalisation, 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,” explains Michael Huth, co-founder, Chief Technology Officer and Professor at Imperial College London. “This right is given up remarkably often if the service isn’t up to par. Therefore, privacy tech can only go mainstream if users are given alternatives that can compete with the incumbents on design and user experience. That’s why we created Xayn, a personalised, convenient search alternative that keeps data where it belongs – with the user.”
Xayn is built on the company’s platform XayNet which started as a research project four years ago and which has been open-sourced since then. XayNet brings the algorithms to the data and not vice versa. It combines federated analytics for privacy-preserving product analytics and training AI models over millions of devices with masked federated learning. Thus, the framework and search alternative show that the conflict between convenience and privacy can, in fact, be solved through technology.
Xayn aims to become a true alternative to established search engines by combining privacy, transparency, and convenience through cutting edge AI. The European tech company wants to make privacy tech suitable for the mainstream by putting design at equal importance to privacy by design. Therefore, users can look forward to features such as:
- 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 personalised 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 favourite 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.
Xayn is a privacy-protecting search alternative that enables users to gain back control over the algorithms and provides them with a smooth user-experience. Using the latest AI technology made in Europe, the company ushers in a new generation of user-friendly privacy tech – making privacy available for everyone.
The AI company started as a research project at The University of Oxford and Imperial College London by Leif-Nissen Lundbæk (Ph.D.) and Professor Michael Huth. Together with Felix Hahmann, they founded the tech company in 2017. To this day, that academic vision remains with a workforce comprised of 30% PhDs. The company’s open-source framework for federated analytics and learning, XayNet, is the basis of the privacy-protecting personalised search engine Xayn. The Berlin-based company has received investment funding of 9.5 million EURO by Earlybird VC as well as Dominik Schiener. Xayn has worked with corporations such as Porsche, Daimler, Deutsche Bahn, and Siemens.
TECHNOLOGY AND FUNCTIONALITY
How does Xayn work?
Xayn uses a decentralized approach with so-called computing on the edge. The app is based on XayNet, a specially developed framework for masked federated machine learning. The app doesn’t collect any user data but combines the encrypted AI models of the respective devices asynchronously with homomorphic encryption to a collective model. In a second step, this collective model is then fed back to the individual devices. Thus, the respective models learn from each other while your privacy is always protected.
On each device, four AI models work together in the app to present you the most relevant search results.
- AI 1 for processing natural language (quantized tiny multilingual Sentence-BERT):
Xayn’s first AI model is a quantized tiny multilingual Sentence-BERT optimized for mobile to understand the natural language of queries of the words you used in your query as well as in the results. Therefore, Xayn uses word embeddings that map words or phrases from the vocabulary to vectors of numbers, since the AI needs to process numbers.
- AI 2 for grouping interests (unsupervised clustering model called Col):
In the second step, Xayn uses an unsupervised clustering model named Col to group these points in the embedded space into different clusters of interest – for example, Sports, Arts, and so forth. Afterwards, it calculates the distance to the so-called cluster centroids to reduce the computational cost in the re-ranking model later. These clusters of interest are very dynamic and can change over time because your interests might shift. In addition, the clusters can also be very fine-grained. This means, they don’t necessarily represent only over-arching categories like Sports or Arts but could represent also detailed clusters like “Scottish Hurling” or “Canoeing in the German Spreewald”.
- AI 3 for analysing domain preferences (ListNet):
A third model called ListNet analyses the history of search interactions to understand which types of domain you like – for example Wikipedia rather than Instagram.
- AI 4 for computing context (dynamic contextual multi-armed bandit):
The fourth AI model finally merges the outputs of Col (AI 2) and Col (AI 3). This so-called dynamic contextual multi-armed bandit is a type of reinforcement learning algorithm. In this stage, Xayn learns what is more important for you based on certain contexts such as time and location. The app learns whether you prefer a certain interest over others – e.g., whether you prefer sightseeing over restaurants when searching for “Barcelona”.
Furthermore, it constantly explores new behaviours and tries out new things to stay topical, since your interests might change over time. This AI model also enables Xayn to understand much better what type of content (news, videos, images...) you prefer.
In the beginning, Xayn delivers general search results but refines them every time you interact with it. This way, you can watch the AI learning and get relevant search results, while your privacy is always protected.
Why should you interact with the Xayn app by swiping?
With each search, you can give Xayn direct feedback so that the app refines future search results. If you swipe to the left, you’re telling Xayn you don’t want to see the result. With a quick swipe to the right, you tell Xayn that you're interested in the result. Swiping slowly to the right indicates to Xayn that you want to save the result in your collections.
What are the Collections?
When searching the web with Xayn you can create flexible content collections where you can save webpages, news, images, videos etc. These personal content collections provide you with all their researched information at one glance, in an interface that provides a clear overview.
How does the personalised home screen work?
Like a social media newsfeed, your personalised home screen offers you a feed of curated content that matches your interests – be it general web content, videos, images, or news articles. However, unlike conventional new feeds, Xayn doesn't rely on a closed platform but rather collects content suggestions uniquely for you from the variety of the entire web. With every app interaction you make, Xayn understands better what content is relevant for you.
What are the requirements for the Xayn app on a smartphone?
We recommend you use the Xayn app with a smartphone that is as up to date as possible - for Apple starting from the iPhone 8 and for Android operating systems from version 9.
Is Xayn also available as desktop version?
A desktop version of Xayn as well as other features are already in preparation and will follow in the future.
Dr. Clara Herdeanu
Head of Communications