Screen Snooping: How to Safeguard Your Data From Shoulder-Surfers

Screen Snooping: How to Safeguard Your Data From Shoulder-Surfers

If you don’t have enough to worry about; from criminals trolling for your passwords or social media borrowing your personal data, you can now rest assured that on top of that, basically everyone is curious about what you’re doing on your smartphone. And most people have absolutely no problem glancing over your shoulder at a busy coffee shop or onboard an airplane to take a look.  Popping that invisible personal bubble that seems to surround smart phone and laptop users’ private spaces is considered the age-old concept of screen snooping. It is alive and well and you don’t even need any high tech to do it, just your eyes.

It’s very prevalent these days. Most of the time, we don’t realize it or if we are doing it, we are not very aware of it or concerned about it. In a recent study of people snooping over our shoulders, it was revealed that 97% of thousands of people surveyed had taken part in at least one incident of screen snooping, also called visual hacking; which is simply people looking over your shoulder, trying to get a peek at what you’re doing while you are working on your laptop or mobile device.  

It’s interesting because our tech is literally with us everywhere we now go, from phones, tablets or ultra thin laptops, the social norm is that we now live in a world were we access our digital data, personal or private anywhere. With that in mind, people now sort of assume that when your working in public, it’s ok to look at what your doing. This seems especially true with the younger generation who maybe throughout school got used to looking over the shoulders of others as they interact with apps that allow collaboration like Snapchat or playing network games like Minecraft or Fortnight. That invisible bubble of privacy that the older generation of people grew up with (because we did not have digital devices to interface with, just pen and paper) does not exists anymore. And so our younger generation thinks it to be normal to look at what others are doing on their devices because they grew up thinking it was normal.  

It’s seems to also be very common among middle-age people as well who are just simply nosey and seem to be looking for something to gossip about. In this same study conducted on shoulder snooping, there was one story of a guy texting his wife from his children’s school and a female teacher who was looking over his shoulder keeping a watchful eye on what he was doing and who he was texting said to him “I hope that is your wife you’re talking to and your not having an affair”? So, for the most part, people love prying into other people’s business while looking over their shoulder at their mobile device in public.   

So in my research, almost everyone I spoke to was annoyed by screen snoopers but many are just not aware of others looking over their shoulder. Also, our personal and private space seems to be shrinking whether it’s in the subway, on a plane, or in a coffee shop. This, in part, is due to the nature of the devices we carry with us. Our computers are now portable and handheld allowing everyone to carry every private piece of evidence we have about us in our pocket.  

A common defense, tilting your phone away from onlookers, only works if the tilt is at a 70-degree angle from the floor so it is sharply tilted away from spying eyes. Security experts recommend keeping the Text small on screens, covering password entries with your hand or sitting with your back against a wall.  

That said, there are privacy screen protectors that you can get all of your devices that will block the view from any angle. 3M is one company that has black privacy protectors available for any type of screen.

Also too, Google researchers have developed a privacy application that runs on your mobile device that can instantly detect when a stranger glances at your screen over your shoulder. When the user holds a phone up to chat or view a private video, say, on a train or other crowded place, the app will detect, within milliseconds, when someone else from behind begins looking at the screen too. Titled the ‘electronic screen protector’, it combines the two areas of computer vision research to provide enhanced privacy when using a big-screen smartphone in public spaces.



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