How privacy came to the fore in laptop design at CES 2022

Over the past few years, there has been a new push towards the privacy features of the laptop industry. With the majority of PC sales being laptops and battery life improving dramatically, the use of laptops in public spaces for business purposes has increased accordingly. Many business laptops now offer things like webcam privacy shutters, for example, but much more can be done to protect business information from the prying eyes of the public.

HP Sure View Privacy Screen

One recent solution has been built-in privacy screens, which dramatically reduce the viewing angle of screens so that if someone tries to glance at your screen while you work, they won’t see it. almost nothing. Although this is a good solution, these privacy screens can also impact the use of the device to the detriment of the user experience, which is why, for example, the screen of HP’s built-in privacy Sure View can be turned on and off.

A new solution appeared this year at CES from several manufacturers, namely actively throwing surfing off the shoulders using IR cameras to detect unwanted eyes, and then scrambling the display if detected. I remember seeing the Tobii Eye Tracking hardware and software for the first time at MSI’s booth at CES in, I believe, 2015. Tobii uses IR cameras to track eye movements and, at the time, was featured as a gaming feature. Tobii as a brand is still best known in the consumer space for its gaming efforts, but they are now partnering with MSI on their line of business to provide Tobii Aware, which leverages concepts of their game products for corporate privacy functionality.

With Tobii Aware, the laptop will be able to provide authentication for the right user all the time, so if that user turns their head, the display will become blurry, and then when they turn around, it will be sharp again. Presence detection is another feature that has become a priority, including in Windows itself, and the device can automatically lock if you move away. Tobii will also allow you to either have visual clues or activate or blur the privacy screen if someone tries to surf your work.

Lenovo ThinkPad Webcam

Tobii isn’t the only player in this space. Lenovo has partnered with Lattice Semiconductor to integrate FPGAs for Computer Vision into the new Lenovo ThinkPad X1 for presence detection, which will not only increase privacy and allow more precise screen unlock – even with a mask – but is also billed as a battery saving because the PC will only wake up when the right person approaches it, and not just a pet or someone else in the area. The ThinkPad X1 will also automatically darken the screen when it is not being looked at, and since the screen is the most power consuming of the entire system, it can further improve battery life. This is even more important for OLED displays which are becoming more and more common in the laptop space.

AMD is also in this game, partnering with a company called Eyeware to bring a downloadable app for Radeon users during the first half of 2022. The AMD / Eyeware solution is a bit different, in that instead of using cameras to actively spot shoulder surfers, it is based on observing what the user is doing. Eyeware wants to use real-time eye tracking to figure out what the user is looking at and then blur / dim everything else, essentially functioning as a form of passive rejection of the surf on the shoulders.

While laptop privacy has certainly been an active development feature for several manufacturers over the past few years, there is no doubt that the current working environment, with the radical shift to remote working over the past two years years, pushed the idea of ​​protecting business information. further than this might have happened organically. With data now being viewed outside the office with a much higher frequency, surely every business would want to keep this data from curious eyes. The upcoming new hardware and software combinations from multiple players should help alleviate some of the concerns, although of course, business data protection is still, even with these protections, something workers will need to be trained on.

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