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Now you can make your laptop screen visible only to yourself.

The 3M Notebook Privacy Computer Filter is transparent when viewed from directly in front, but turns black when viewed from the side.

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The 3M 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 bored.

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 around you!

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 flight.

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 Computer Filter

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 partially obscured.

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 moir 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 place.

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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Originally published 31 Jan 2003, last update 20 Jul 2020

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

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