Computer Screen Privacy Filter
Stop Snoops from Seeing your Screen
Simply slip the sheet
of filter plastic in front of your laptop screen.
The information on your
computer can now only be seen by people seated directly in
front of the screen.
If you're like me, and you're
on a long boring flight with nothing much to do, and a person
nearby starts using their laptop, you probably find the
temptation to have a peek at what they are doing almost
overwhelming - not because you're nosey, but just because you're
And, if you're again like me,
while you're working on your own laptop, you really don't like
providing public entertainment for your fellow travelers all
With the growth of airborne
Wi-Fi, more of us are choosing to use our computers while
flying, and so there's an increasing need for a way to block our
computer screen from our fellow passengers seated next to us.
Here's a simple, effective
and affordable solution.
A Growing Need
According to a recent Harris
Interactive survey, nearly half (42%) of business travelers
indicated that they try to shield their work for fear that
someone is looking over their shoulder. That should not come as
a surprise since 40% of business travelers admit to casting an
errant eye on an unsuspecting seatmate - which is a surprising
increase of more than 11% from 2001.
And with growing
implementation of wireless networking - now even at your local
Starbucks - we're all using our
netbooks (or laptops or tablets) increasingly in public
places, even when we're not traveling out of town.
This is particularly the
case on planes. Not only are the flights more full than
ever before, making it likely that you'll have people seated all
around you, but with Wi-Fi becoming more common, you're more
likely to want to use your computer during the long hours on a
Snooping is prevalent
everywhere from offices to public places, and victims are more
aware than ever. The Harris Interactive survey also confirmed that increasing
numbers of people use a computer while traveling. As a result,
the 'snooping issue' is becoming more important for the growing
number of road warriors who would like to work, in public, but
on private or sensitive documents.
The problem has got worse by
improved flat screen technology that has widened the viewing
angle, making it easier for people to clearly read the
information on your screen, even if it is placed at quite a
substantial angle away from them.
The 3M Notebook Privacy
Enter 3M, who some years ago developed
an intriguing product. It looks like a simple thin sheet
of flexible plastic, and it reduces the screen's visibility to a
narrow angle so as to restore privacy to our computer screens. They call this a 'Notebook Privacy Computer Filter'. Slip it in
front of your computer screen and, all of a sudden, you can no
longer view the screen from the side.
You can still see the
screen, almost exactly as before, from straight ahead, and
variations in the vertical angle also make little difference
(which allows you to have your screen tilted open at just about
any angle you'd ever want). But as soon as you move to the side,
the screen starts to black out, and by the time you're at about
a 45 degree angle, the screen just appears as solid black, with
nothing visible at all.
I tested it on a recent
flight. In coach class, my laptop screen could not be seen by
the person seated next to me. In first class, because my screen
was further in front of me than in coach class, the viewing
angle for the person next to me was not quite as extreme, and it
was possible to vaguely make out some type of screen image,
particularly on the part of the screen closest to the person
next to me. But turning the laptop just a little bit in the
other direction was enough to then 'close off' the screen
entirely to my seatmate.
Overall, this laptop filter is acceptably
effective, and very much better than nothing at all, although not a 100% complete solution. For example,
if you are on an aisle seat, then the person in the aisle seat
behind you, or on the other side one row back, will probably be
at less than a 45 degree angle and able to see some or all of
your material on the screen. But they'll also probably be so far
away that they can't conveniently read what you're doing.
For the most important
potential snoop - the person in the seat next to you, your work
is much more hidden, with between half and the full screen
completely blacked out, and the remaining parts of the screen
For the user, the screen
cuts down on brightness a bit, but if this worries you, it is
easily compensated for by increasing the screen brightness on
the laptop. It also puts a bit of a vague thin pattern onto the
screen - a bit like a moiré pattern such as you'd see if two
lace curtains were placed on top of each other, but not nearly
so pronounced or noticeable, and after working with the screen
in place for a while, one ends up almost completely forgetting
about this pattern.
3M claim that the screen
improves contrast, but I found quite the opposite to apply -
contrast was degraded, but not seriously so.
How it Works
3M have developed a new 'microlouver'
technology, a bit like mini-blinds on an office window, but
built into the plastic sheet. These microlouvers, presumably in
vertical rows, are what allows the image to be visible from
directly in front of the sheet, but to be obscured when viewed
from the side.
When ordering a screen, you
must specify the same size of your laptop's screen. There are no
other options or issues to worry about. 3M make screens in all
standard laptop (and regular desktop screen) sizes (eg 13.3",
14.1", 15", 17", etc).
To fit the screen to your
computer, you first stick six small plastic circles, two to each
of three of the four sides of your laptop's screen frame. Then
you simply slip the sheet between the halves of the plastic
circles that act as frame holders, and it is installed and in
It took me maybe two minutes
to install the six circles on my Dell laptop, and then
five seconds to slide the sheet into place. It was a perfect
fit. It took me another five seconds to slide it out again -
like all great things, it is very convenient, easy and simple.
You'll probably slide the
sheet out when you're by yourself, and then slide it back in
when you're in public. I keep my sheet, in its protective
envelope, in my laptop carry bag so it is always with me. It
only weighs an ounce or two, and it is very thin, so carrying it
is no hassle. The six plastic circles stay on my laptop screen
frame all the time.
The screens are widely
available through typical online computer supply companies.
Amazon list them at discounted prices ranging from about $40 and
upwards, depending on the size screen and the particular pricing
in force at the time.
3M say that the screen has a
lifetime warranty. I can't think what might fail, and plainly
they can't think of anything that might fail, either! There are
no moving parts and nothing to wear out.
The 3M Privacy Filter is a simple, lightweight,
clever and inexpensive device that makes it more difficult for
people around you to see what you're doing on your computer.
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31 Jan 2003, last update
27 Jun 2011
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.