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Hewlett-Packard, 3M Team Up to Build Privacy Screens Right Into Business Laptops

The company plans to build a privacy-protecting film layer into mainstream business PCs by the middle of next year.


You know those ugly gray privacy protectors that only weird people put on their computers?

Well, HP thinks it has found a way to offer similar protection without the huge nerd factor that comes with using such a screen today.

 HP plans to replace screens like this with a film layer built directly into notebook PCs.
HP plans to replace screens like this with a film layer built directly into notebook PCs.

By teaming up with 3M (which also makes the ugly things), HP plans to build similar privacy protection directly into a new line of mainstream business laptops that debuts next year.

With all the hacking out there, you would think that the risk of people stealing information from looking at a screen is low, but HP insists it is a big problem and even has a fear-inducing name for it: “Visual hacking.”

The issue is of increasing importance as millennials do more of their work in communal places such as coffee shops, planes and buses, says Mike Nash, a former head of Microsoft’s security efforts and now a VP in HP’s computer business. Go to any cafe in Silicon Valley, he says, and you can see business plans, partnership agreements and other sensitive data.

“You don’t have to have a photographic memory to [remember] that A is partnering with B,” Nash said.

The new laptop privacy protection, which restricts viewing to the person looking at the screen head-on, will be able to be turned on and off. That means that the same worker who wants to avoid unwanted eyes at the cafe can still show a movie on Netflix to her three roommates when she gets home.

HP, which is in the process of spinning out its computer business as a separate company, will be under pressure to show it can produce enough innovation to stand out from rivals and thrive in a very price-sensitive business.

HP isn’t saying how much the technology adds to the cost of a computer, but the company said it is looking to hit the mainstream part of the market, so it’s clearly nothing too pricey and exotic.

“We don’t see this as a niche,” said Alex Cho, VP and general manager of HP’s commercial PC division.

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