Businessmen with laptops on board an aircraft

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Privacy when needed

Privacy films prevent prying eyes from reading along, however they reduce the brightness of the screen. An innovation from siOPTICA uses PLEXIGLAS® to protect display contents against shoulder surfing.

Laptops, mobile phones, ATMs, infotainment systems in vehicles... Many electronic devices are now equipped with a high-resolution display. Content can still be seen clearly on these displays even from farther away – but that’s not always desirable.

Mobile working poses risk to data

“Everyone who has worked on their laptop in a train or airplane is familiar with the uneasy feeling that fellow travelers can read along,” says Dr. Markus Klippstein, CEO of siOPTICA, a company that develops and markets innovative optical solutions for privacy and safety applications. While photos from your last beach vacation may simply be too intimate for strangers to see, data thieves – also called visual hackers – could easily look over your shoulder while you shop online and see your credit card details.

Often, data used by business travelers working on the move is even more sensitive. Certain key corporate figures, product details or strategic aspects are often subject to confidentiality. “Many people unintentionally breach data protection during mobile working,” says Dr. Klippstein, adding, “the rest is child’s play for data thieves.” The problem is exacerbated by the HD cameras in smartphones, which can easily photograph screen content, thus making data theft even easier.

Geschäftsfrau mit Laptop

Visual hackers

According to a study from February 2016, 88 of all attempted “visual hacks”, namely data theft by shoulder surfing, were successful. The victims were completely unaware of what had happened in 70 percent of cases.

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Privacy films reduce brightness

This is one reason why many companies dictate that business travelers must use privacy films for their mobile working. These films are applied directly to the surface of the laptop display and use a special structure to prevent, among other things, shoulder surfing. “But a display protection film reduces the brightness of the screen by up to 50 percent, which is why users have to adjust the brightness accordingly, which in turn increases the drain on the battery,” states Dr. Klippstein. “In addition, the films can be forgotten or lost, which means that employees then go back to working without them.”

Alternative to display films

siOPTICA has developed an innovative alternative to display protection films using PLEXIGLAS®. As a component in LCD displays, this privacy and screen protection technology enables privacy whenever it is needed. “In the public mode, the screen can be viewed from all angles without restriction; the privacy mode restricts the field of view,” Dr. Klippstein explains. Switching between the two options – via a switch or software – takes place within a fraction of a second, is compatible with touch screens and neither increases the thickness of the display nor noticeably increases power consumption. “This is the first of its kind in the world, which we were able to implement thanks to Evonik’s expertise and the excellent properties of PLEXIGLAS®,” says Dr. Klippstein.

Privacy whenever it is needed: This is how the privacy and screen protection technology works.

“This is the first of its kind in the world, which we were able to implement with PLEXIGLAS® from Evonik.”

Dr. Markus Klippstein
CEO siOPTICA

Switchable privacy and screen protection: Broad market interest

The innovative privacy and screen protection technology is well on its way to being used in series production – which would apply to laptops, cellphones and other devices and applications. “We have been approached with completely new concepts and requirements ever since the technology was introduced,” Dr. Klippstein reports. Operators of ATMs or payment terminals, for example, can provide their customers with safe PIN entry on touch screens thanks to the siOPTICA solution. When the entry terminal is not in use, the public mode can provide a wide field of view for displaying targeted advertising to passers-by. “To date, advertising on conventional, view-protected ATMs and payment terminals has been difficult for passers-by to see – the banks cannot take full advantage of the advertising space that is already available,” Dr. Klippstein explains. Following the same principle, digital testing terminals that, for example, are increasingly being used for driver’s license examinations, could prevent other screens from being viewed during the examination when the privacy mode is activated. However, students could work together at a learning terminal during classroom instruction.

Prevent distractions

“While these cases involve protecting display content, our technology may also contribute to making road traffic safer,” says Dr. Klippstein. After all, current infotainment systems not only provide navigation, but also a wide range of options for operating the radio, air-conditioning system, vehicle configurations and they even enable playing movies and using apps. But this flood of information can easily distract the driver. “In this case, our technology is able to create a mode in which entertainment content is only visible to the passenger when the car is in motion,” Dr. Klippstein explains. “Thus, our technology can basically be used anytime the visible angle of the display needs to be restricted.”