November 30, 2020

What you need to know about privacy screen protectors

A lot of sensitive information is available on our smartphones, and keeping it safe from prying eyes is important. Here's what you need to know about privacy screen protectors!

Pixel 3 XL screen protector - privacy screen protectors

Credit: Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Security features like end-to-end encryption, 2-factor authentication, and a good VPN keep your information safe online. However, something as simple as a few surreptitious glances can cause the biggest privacy issues. If this is something you’re worried about, using a privacy screen protector is the way to go. What are they and how do they work? Here’s everything you need to know about privacy screen protectors!


What is a privacy screen protector?

privacy screen protector for the pixel 4 xl

A privacy screen protector serves double duty as a screen guard to keep your display scratch-free while also keeping your data safe from prying eyes. Like a regular screen guard, these can be of the PET film or tempered glass variety. But, it has an additional anti-spy layer that limits the viewing angle of your display.


Do you need one?

“Visual hacking� is a fancy way of describing the way in which someone sits or stands around you and looks at what’s on your device’s screen. It may seem harmless, but it’s worth thinking about at least, since many of us do almost everything on our phones.

Using the phone for everything, from social media to online banking, has become second nature. However, if you’re logging into accounts and or checking sensitive information, others might be able to see it all as well, while you unknowingly type away. We all love the large, bright, beautiful displays of our phones, but they certainly aren’t great for privacy.

Of course, it’s not just about malicious intent. You might simply not want others to know what you’re doing on the phone. Regardless of what you’re watching, what websites you visit, or the social media you scroll through. We do a lot on our phones, but nobody else but you should know what that is.


How does a privacy screen protector work?

viewing nagles with a 2-way privacy screen protector - privacy screen protectors Amazon (Celicious)

Most privacy screen protectors use a form of micro louver technology that allows light from the display to pass through only at certain angles. Essentially how Venetian window blinds work, but at a microscopic scale. The filter layer is set to a narrow front angle, usually 60 or 90 degrees, and anyone looking at your screen from beyond that viewing angle won’t see anything.


The best privacy screen protectors and what to look for

There are quite a few brands that make privacy screen protectors. There are some things you should know before buying one though.

  • Micro louver technology – Some privacy screen protectors use some type of micro louver technology. These provide a better viewing experience than other options that are just darkened glass or film.
  • Tempered glass or film – This is a personal preference with regards to the type of display protection you’re looking for. Both can have privacy layers. Finding full coverage with a tempered glass panel can be a touch difficult especially if the phone has a curved screen. Tempered glass is much better when it comes to protecting the display though.
  • 2-way or 4-way privacy – A 2-way filter shows a darkened screen only in the portrait orientation. The obvious advantage here is that if you want to share something on your phone, all you have to do is turn the phone to landscape. However, if complete privacy is what you are looking for, 4-way privacy filters work in both orientations.
  • Viewing angle – The viewing angle has to be narrow enough so that people standing or sitting next to you are out of range. If a viewing angle is too wide, it kinds of defeats the purpose of having a privacy screen protector. On the flip side, if it’s too narrow, it may impact your own viewing experience. You’ll have to face the screen head-on to make sure that you are able to see the screen properly. With most privacy screen protectors, the available viewing angle is usually 60 or 90 degrees.

Advantages

viewing angles with 4-way privacy screen protector - privacy screen protectors Amazon (Celicious)

The most obvious advantage of using a privacy screen protector is in the name — privacy. Knowing that any sensitive information is safe from the prying gaze of bystanders is a big positive.

It isn’t just about privacy in public areas either. If a spouse, partner, or roommate gets annoyed at the fact that you are on your phone all night, a privacy screen protector helps here as well. It guarantees that they aren’t disturbed by the light from your phone, while you can continue to enjoy it without any issues.

Related: Best Android security practices

Of course, the privacy screen protector also gives you the same advantage as a regular screen protector. It provides a great way to keep the display free of scratches and safe during accidental bumps and drops.

Other advantages are often manufacturer-specific. Some screen protectors come with an anti-glare coating, blue light filter, filters to reduce eye strain, and oleophobic and hydrophobic coatings to keep the protector free from fingerprint and oil smudges.


Disadvantages

Privacy screen protectors sound fantastic on paper. Unfortunately, the reality is a little bit different. Many companies promise no issues with clarity or brightness, but that isn’t always the case.

You can overcome the problem by pumping up the brightness of the display, but this will cause the battery to drain faster. Having the brightness too high could also reduce the effectiveness of the privacy filter when the phone is angled away.

The need to hold the phone directly in front of you also takes away those quick sideways looks at the time or notifications. This is something I do quite often, and it’ll take a lot of getting used to if I have a privacy screen protector on my phone.

Sharing something that’s on your screen becomes difficult as well. You’ll have to angle it in just the right away to show other people a video or a photo. 2-way privacy screens help by letting you show the display without issue in landscape. This won’t be possible with 4-way privacy screen protectors though.

Finally, the reduced viewing angle may actually not be as limiting as you’d need. As low as viewing angles of 60 or 90 degrees sound, anyone standing in close proximity, say on the subway or on a bus, will still be able to see over your shoulder and get a somewhat clear view of the display.


Final thoughts

privacy screen protector for the iPhone 11 Pro

Privacy screen protectors are from the ultimate privacy solution that some phone owners want. It’s not perfect either, so you’ll have to get used to a slightly reduced display experience. Keeping prying eyes away in public areas might be necessary for some though, and that’s when the privacy screen protector is an absolute must-have.

If it all possible, it would be best to simply avoid accessing sensitive information while in public though. Phone and display makers spend millions to offer impressive viewing experiences and no user wants to have that taken away. That said, privacy trumps showing off a vivid display. Ultimately, you’re the best person to judge whether a privacy screen protector is something you’ll need.