New 3M software warns users about prying eyes

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN) |

June 28--3M Corp. wants computers to know you -- and only you.

This week, the Maplewood conglomerate debuted privacy software that uses ­cameras, face recognition technology and filters to alert users if someone is trying to take a peek at their screen.

The technology blacks out content if an onlooker tries to view from an angle. The software also allows users to select various privacy settings to shield information.

"We have been asked by customers for years to give them help with over-the-shoulder screen privacy protection," said David Owen, product marketing manager for 3M's display materials and systems division. "The idea has been out there for years. But just came to fruition with this launch."

One option blurs out the screen if anyone approaches the main user from behind. Another feature, called the 3M ePrivacy Filter, uses facial recognition software and a webcam and only reveals the contents of the laptop screen to the software owner.

Another setting actually takes a picture of any snooper coming behind the user and posts the photo right on the screen. There also is an option to blur the computer's text whenever the user looks away or walks away from the computer.

3M expects the software will be a hit with hospitals, consulting firms and government agencies that deal frequently with sensitive materials on their computers. Privacy also has been a big concern with traveling executives, product developers and marketers working in coffee shops and airports.

"We are really excited. And the audiences we have shown the facial recognition features to have been really excited," Owens.

The technology, which uses a Windows operating system, was born after extensive field testing and work with focus groups. It retails for roughly $49 to $59. The ePrivacy Filters are available on Shop3M.com, CDW.com and other authorized 3M resellers.

3M offers two versions of the software. The Professional Edition is intended for consumers, while the Enterprise Edition targets corporations who want to install the technology on servers. With that version, security audits by company managers are possible, Owen said.

The new products are the latest offerings from 3M that safeguard information.

3M makes software for the digital medical-records industry. It makes facial recognition software for the federal government and separate identification software that is embedded in passports. The company, which has long made optical films that brighten computer and phone screens, also makes privacy films that adhere to laptop-screens and make side viewing difficult.

Now 3M's gone one extra step by addressing laptop privacy concerns with software technology.

The product was developed by a Minnesota team of software designers and engineers. When asked what the market potential might be, company officials noted that there are hundreds of millions of computers in the world and said they hope to have the software on "a small percentage" of those desktop and laptop units.

Dee DePass -- 612-673-7725

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