There has been plenty of talk about just how much data companies like Facebook and Google hold about you, and what you’re into. Xayn is pitching itself, like Firefox and Opera, as the anti-Google, with a web browser and newsreader app that will protect your privacy but still offer tailored search results. The company says that its AI, which keeps your identity a secret, but can examine your preferences, offers the best of both worlds.
One of the great problems of extricating your digital life from the tech giants is how sticky its products have become. Your search engine has spent so long tracking your history, in order to anticipate what you need, that it’s hard to start fresh. For all of those rival platforms that offer to better protect your privacy, the inherent risk is that the search results won’t be as good.
That’s the gap that Xayn is hoping to fill, with an AI that the user can train in the early stages of use with the use of swipes. It says that the browser still offers “preference-driven personalization to provide relevant search results,” but won’t know who you are. Open the app and you’ll be taken to a discovery page showing you relevant news headlines from the day, which you can swipe left or right to dismiss or approve.
Xayn began as a research project by Leif Nissen Lundbæk while working on his Masters at Oxford and his PhD at Imperial College. He was joined by Imperial College Professor Michael Huth, who specializes in cryptography and cybersecurity, as well as Lundbæk’s former colleague, Felix Hahmann. It’s based on the XayNet framework, which uploads anonymous machine learning data to a server before pushing a refined model back to your phone.
The company says that you should install Xayn in place of your regular web browser on your phone’s main icon bar. But while it may want to topple Safari and Chrome, amongst others, its upstart product isn’t yet as sophisticated as its rivals. When browsing the web, there’s a fairly sizable menu bar pinned to the bottom of the page that makes things look a little cluttered. Now, you can easily jump into another browser from there, but that does rather defeat the point of using Xayn in the first place.
That said, the app is good at finding news recommendations for you to read, which you can clip into Firefox App-esque “Collections” folders. It’s nice to have that curation, and it’s rather fun to train once you get used to the swiping mechanic. The browser still needs a little more polish and refinement before you’d consider it to be a viable replacement for what’s currently on your phone.