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Privacy screen protectors: Do you need one?

In a world increasingly driven by digital technology, protecting your sensitive information is more important than ever. However, it’s not always malware and exploited vulnerabilities that are to blame. Sometimes it’s as simple as someone glancing at your screen at the wrong time.

Privacy screen protectors: Do you need one?

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What can you do to combat this low-tech yet invasive form of data breach? Should you never look at sensitive information while in public? Or ask a friend to guard your back at all times? These are valid options, of course, but before you bother your friends, try getting a privacy screen protector.

What is a privacy screen protector?

A privacy screen protector is an easy-to-use solution that helps protect your sensitive data from spying. When it’s on, the contents of your screen are only visible when you’re looking straight at it — anyone trying to look at it from an angle will see a darkened or distorted image. It is a thin, protective layer you can apply to the screen of most of your devices.

Using a privacy screen protector gives you peace of mind whenever you use your device in public. With it on, you can look at sensitive work documents, personal photos, and messages without worrying that the stranger sitting next to you will be able to get a glimpse and find out more than you want them to.

How do privacy screens work?

Privacy screen protectors use light polarization to work. These screens consist of a layer of micro-louvers, which are microscopic blinds arranged in parallel slats. When viewed straight on, the louvers are “open,” allowing light from the screen to pass through directly, so you can clearly see the screen. However, when someone looks at the screen from an angle, the louvers appear “closed,” making the contents of the screen look dark or obscured.

It’s important to note that while privacy screen protectors might be effective at preventing a stranger on the train from seeing too much during your morning commute, they’re not a foolproof solution. The degree of privacy depends on the quality of the screen protector and the viewing angle. Also, they don’t prevent someone from seeing your screen if they’re standing directly behind you. To avoid visual hacking, be mindful of your surroundings and handle extremely sensitive information only when you know it is safe to do so.

What is visual hacking?

Visual hacking is a technique for stealing information in the most straightforward way — by looking at a screen that has sensitive information on it. It is also sometimes referred to as “shoulder surfing.” Visual hacking is a low-tech yet surprisingly effective method of stealing information mostly because it doesn’t involve any sophisticated hacking tools or digital infiltration techniques.

The simplicity and accessibility of visual hacking make it a prevalent threat in both public and office spaces. It can happen anywhere, anytime — at a coffee shop, in a shared workspace, or on a bus where someone casually glances at your screen. While a single glimpse of the contents on your phone screen might not be enough to do serious damage to your business, it’s entirely possible to steal credit card information or passwords this way. The snooper could also get enough information for further stalking, identity theft, or other types of fraud.

People are so used to hearing about sophisticated cyberattacks that they forget that simple social engineering techniques may be just as effective. While they seem rudimentary at first, they also require you to take physical privacy measures — like using privacy screen protectors.

Do you need a privacy screen?

The need for a privacy screen depends on your lifestyle. For example, if you often travel for work, you probably use your laptop and other devices in public spaces like restaurants, parks, trains, or airports. Hackers are likely to frequent these locations looking for easy targets — and being jet-lagged and distracted makes you an easy target. If that’s the case, investing in a good screen protector could save you a lot of trouble and give you peace of mind.

But if your work doesn’t involve handling sensitive information, you might still want the additional protection for your own private data. Even if it’s only for your holiday pictures — no one wants to share their personal information with strangers while they’re waiting for their coffee order.

Advantages of using a privacy screen

Using a privacy screen protector has many advantages:

  • pros
    Visual hacking protection. By restricting the screen visibility, privacy screens prevent others from seeing the contents of your screen and protect your sensitive information from visual hacking.
  • pros
    Physical screen protection. These screens protect your devices from scratches, smudges, and minor impact damage. They increase the lifespan of your devices’ screens and help them retain value.
  • pros
    Glare reduction. Many privacy screen protectors also have an anti-glare feature. It reduces the light that’s reflected from the screen, making it easier to use your devices outside or in brightly lit rooms.
  • pros
    UV and blue light reduction. Some privacy screens come with a filter that reduces the amount of harmful UV and blue light emitted from the screen, which protects your eyes and reduces eye strain.

Disadvantages of using a privacy screen

While very useful, privacy screen protectors also have some disadvantages:

  • cons
    Lower screen brightness. Privacy screens may reduce the brightness of the screen, forcing you to increase the brightness level, which drains the device’s battery faster.
  • cons
    Limited viewing angle. While this is beneficial for privacy, the restricted viewing angle can be frustrating if you want to show your coworkers or friends something on your screen.
  • cons
    Cost. High-quality privacy screen protectors can be pricey and add extra costs to setting up your already expensive device.
  • cons
    Fingerprint smudges. Some users find that fingerprint marks show up more on privacy screen protectors, which requires frequent cleaning.

How to use a privacy screen

There are a few different kinds of privacy screen protectors, and they are all installed in different ways:

  • Adhesive privacy screens. These are thin layers of privacy filter material that you have to stick directly onto your device’s screen. They are often used for smartphones and tablets.
  • Removable privacy screens. These privacy screens are designed so that you can attach and remove them easily. They’re a popular choice for laptops and monitors. Some may have little hinges that allow you to lift them easily whenever you need to collaborate with others. Slide-on screens are also a convenient option. They usually have a thin frame and slide onto the screen and are held there by magnets or clips.
  • Privacy screen cases. You can get a phone case with a built-in privacy screen — all you have to do is flip it on, and your screen is safe from snoopers’ eyes.
  • Integrated privacy screens. Some high-end laptops come with integrated privacy screens that can be turned on and off with the press of a button.

Can you put a privacy screen protector on a regular screen protector?

While technically possible, layering a privacy screen protector over a regular screen protector is not generally recommended. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Reduced display clarity: Layering one screen protector on top of another could make your display murky and dark.
  • Decreased touchscreen sensitivity: When it comes to smartphones and tablets, adding one more layer between the actual screen and your finger may make your device less responsive to taps and swipes.
  • It won’t look good: Multiple screen protectors will make your device look bulky. It will also be next to impossible to avoid air bubbles, further ruining the look of your device.

Instead of layering screen protectors, consider getting a privacy screen protector that is also scratch resistant and has impact protection.

How to remove a privacy screen protector

If you’re using a removable privacy screen, you can just take it off. But if you opted for an adhesive one, the process requires more steps:

  1. Lift the screen’s corner. Start by finding a corner of the screen protector that you can lift. If you cannot grip the screen protector with your fingernail, try using a toothpick or a special plastic pry tool designed for electronics. Be sure to avoid using anything sharp or metal because it can scratch the actual screen. Once you’ve lifted the corner, peel the protector off.
  2. Remove the residue. After you’ve removed the protector, some adhesive residue may be left on the screen. You can clean this off using a microfiber towel and some screen cleaner — avoid harsh chemicals or abrasive materials because they could damage your screen.

Choosing the best privacy screen protector

Choosing the best privacy screen protector involves finding a balance between protection, device functionality, and cost. You need to evaluate your specific needs, the type of device you’re using, and the features offered by the protector. Here’s a list of things to consider before buying a privacy screen:

  • Degree of privacy. Different screen protectors offer varying degrees of privacy based on the angle of view they allow. Some provide a 30-degree angle of view, while others offer up to 60 degrees. Consider the environment you’re most likely to use it in and how much privacy you need.
  • Device compatibility. Carefully check whether the protector is compatible with your device. Screen protectors are usually designed for specific models to ensure a perfect fit. Buying according to the display size will likely not work because different devices can have thicker or thinner frames, which will change the size of the screen protector you need.
  • Screen clarity and brightness. A good privacy screen protector shouldn’t affect the quality of your device’s display too much. You will have to sacrifice some brightness, but make sure your device is still usable in all kinds of lighting.
  • Touchscreen compatibility. If you’re using a touchscreen device, ensure the privacy screen protector is compatible and won’t make the screen unresponsive.
  • Installation and removal processes. Some protectors are easier to install and remove than others. Consider whether you’ll be frequently removing and reattaching the privacy screen and choose accordingly.
  • Additional protective features. Depending on your needs, you should look for features like scratch resistance, impact protection, anti-glare, UV and blue light reduction, and antibacterial properties.
  • Price and quality. As with every purchase, you want to get the most bang for your buck. So while you make sure you’re not overpaying (the most expensive option is not always the best), keep in mind that cheap privacy screens will not protect your sensitive data as well and might break quickly.

Additional privacy protection measures for your devices

A privacy screen protector is only one component of a comprehensive security strategy. While it can protect against visual hacking — to an extent — it doesn’t protect your data and devices from digital threats.

If you decide to get a privacy screen, try to implement some (or all!) of these measures and protect your data from unauthorized access and improve your overall security online:

  • Use a VPN: A service like NordVPN encrypts your internet connection, making it much harder for anyone to snoop on your activity online. It is particularly useful if you often use unsafe public Wi-Fi networks, handle sensitive information, or live in a country with heavy online surveillance.
  • Get additional security tools: Protect your devices from trackers and malware by using security software. NordVPN’s Threat Protection Pro feature will add a layer of security by restricting your access to websites known for hosting malware, blocking trackers and intrusive ads, and scanning the files you download for malware.
  • Upgrade your browser: Switch to a privacy-oriented browser as soon as possible. Need help choosing? Check out our list of what we consider to be the best browsers for privacy.
  • Regular updates: Keep your device’s operating system and apps updated to the latest version. Updates often include security patches that fix vulnerabilities and bugs that could otherwise be used by hackers to overtake your device.
  • Remove unused apps: If you don’t use it — get rid of it (it probably doesn’t “spark joy” either way). Old apps could be riddled with vulnerabilities that never receive updates and fixes. Get rid of old apps you no longer need and consider removing the apps we’ve listed in our worst apps for privacy blog post.
  • Use strong passwords: Change the passwords on all your accounts to strong, unique phrases or a random cluster of characters and numbers. Consider using a password manager to generate and store complex passwords — it will help prevent unauthorized access to your accounts.
  • Set up two-factor authentication: Enable 2FA where available. It will quickly add an extra layer of security to any account by requiring a second form of authentication in addition to your password whenever you try to log in.
  • Encrypt your data: Use encryption for your data or at least the most sensitive files. Many devices have built-in settings that allow you to encrypt the data stored on them, but if you want serious protection for your precious files, opt for secure encrypted cloud storage.

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