As Chromebooks continue to move into the workspace, the need for privacy will steadily increase. The next big privacy advancement for Chromebooks will let you know when someone is snooping or looking over your shoulder.

Earlier this year, we uncovered that Google was working on a “Human Presence Sensor” for Chromebooks. Long story short, it’s a dedicated piece of hardware that will determine whether or not a human is visible to your Chromebook’s camera. At the time, we believed that it could be used to automatically lock a device when no one is using it, or even serve as the starting point of face authentication, a feature many have requested for Chrome OS.

As of this week, we now are able to more firmly pinpoint how Chromebooks will use the Human Presence Sensor, thanks to a new flag coming soon to chrome://flags.

Enable snooping detection

Enables snooping protection to notify you whenever there is a ‘snooper’ looking over your shoulder. Can be enabled and disabled from the Smart privacy section of your device settings.

#snooping-protection

With a little bit of digging, we’ve found that this upcoming “snooping protection” will be powered by the Human Presence Sensor. Essentially, your Chromebook would use footage from your camera to determine (locally, your video is not processed online) how many people are visible, as seen below in a rough demonstration of the hardware.

In the event someone actually does try to peek over your shoulder at your device, a few things can happen to protect your work. At the lowest extreme, Chrome OS can show a simple eye icon in the corner of the screen to signal that you’re potentially being watched.

Show me an eye icon in the status area

If you wish to have your work immediately hidden from others, Chrome OS’s snooping protection can automatically dim your screen when it detects someone else.

Notify you or temporary dim your screen when someone is snooping from behind

Additionally, to keep your private conversations private, Chrome OS will be able to temporarily turn off notifications when someone else is looking at your screen. Putting it all together, Google is putting a clear emphasis on the privacy of your work.

Considering these snooping protections will only be available on future Chrome OS devices that have the upcoming Human Presence Sensor, it’s likely we’ll only see these privacy features on enterprise hardware, rather than it becoming a common feature of all Chromebooks. As development is still ongoing, we won’t see any Chromebooks with snooping protection until 2022 at the earliest.

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