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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Protection from shoulder surfing

03 June, 2008
3M privacy filters prevent laptop users from having curious onlookers examining their computer screens while working in public
With a noble history of turning by-products, waste and bits of gunge into revenue generating products, it's little surprise that 3M has come up with something that looks like an undeveloped X-Ray slide which you slap on your laptop to prevent the inquisitive from seeing what you're doing.

The 3M privacy filter is simple and effective. Fitting neatly over the laptop screen, the film is transparent if viewed perpendicularly but opaque when viewed obliquely. The transparency characteristics are different depending on which side you use. One side enables a wider angle of vision and the other side prevents virtually all oblique vision so the side you use depends on how secretive you want to be.

I met Nick Hughes of 3M a few weeks ago at the InfoSecurity Europe exhibition and he gave me a sample screen to try out. I have to admit that it isn't the most demanding test I've every been asked to do; it's a bit like testing sunglasses â€" yes, they fit and they block out the sun. Apart from that, there's little to say. However, I decided that if I gave myself long enough to use it, I'd know whether it would become part of normal life or whether the novelty would soon wear off. In this respect, its clear that it isn't the sort of accessory that is in constant use, there's simply no need to use it in the office for example. On flights, I eat, watch a film and sleep â€" the laptop never comes out of the overhead locker. I hardly ever use trains and never use taxis.

However, I found a spin-off use which was to protect the screen from people who poke it, especially if they have long finger nails! A physics teacher from a long time ago had a device which used to fascinate me. It was a thick piece of clear plastic shaped like a hook and if you squeezed it or pulled it, all the stress lines in the material would reveal themselves in vivid rainbow colours. A similar effect occurs when someone pokes your laptop screen to point something out and it's very irritating. In this respect, the 3M screen serves two purposes â€" first it protects the screen if it's poked and secondly anyone disposed to such a regrettable habit can't see the screen anyway unless they're sat ear to ear with you.
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