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Apple patent hints at gaze detection features for privacy on the Mac, other devices

Apple has been granted yet another patent (number 10,996,748) involving gaze detection on the Mac and other devices. The latest patent is dubbed “gaze-dependent display encryption” and implements gaze detection as a privacy feature.

In the patent filing, Apple notes that portable electronic devices such as laptop computers, smartphones, and tablets are often provided with displays for displaying visual information. Such devices are often used to view content that’s private, confidential, or even classified. Apple says that, however, when these devices are used in public spaces such as cafes, trains, buses, airplanes, airports, or the like, there is a risk that the private, confidential or classified information could be viewed by an unwanted observer looking at the user’s display. 

Privacy screens are available for mounting over the device display that prevent viewing of the display at large angles. However, as Apple notes, these screens are typically bulky, separate devices that must be carried with the electronic device, mounted to the device when privacy is desired, and can be easily forgotten or lost. What’s more, these screens negatively impact the viewing quality of the display for the user (i.e., causing color shifts, reduced luminance, and changes with head or device movement), are ineffective for unwanted observers standing or sitting directly behind the user, and clearly indicate to others around the user that private, potentially interesting or valuable content is being displayed, (which can create an unwanted incentive to attempt to view the content). 

Apple’s idea is for visual encryption systems and methods (i.e., gaze detection) that dynamically update display frames such that display content at the user’s viewing location is clearly displayed and display content at the user’s viewing periphery is obscured in a way that is unintelligible to an unwanted onlooker at any viewing angle but not distracting or noticeable to the user. The company says that, in this way, the user’s privacy is protected without distracting the user and without indicating to others that private information is being displayed. 

Here’s the patent summary: “Aspects of the subject technology relate to gaze-dependent visual encryption of electronic device displays. Each display frame that is displayed on the electronic device display may include a clear-display region around the user’s gaze location and an obscured region outside the clear-display region. In this way, only the display content that the user is actively viewing is recognizable and understandable and an onlooker such as an unwanted observer looking over the user’s shoulder is unable to understand what is displayed. 

“The obscured region of each display frame may be generated such that the overall look and structure of that region is unchanged, but the content is unintelligible. In this way, the visual experience of the user is not disrupted or distracted by the visual encryption and the eye of the onlooker is not guided to the clear-display region by the visual encryption.”

Dennis Sellers
the authorDennis Sellers
Dennis Sellers is the news editor of Apple World Today. He’s been an “Apple journalist” since 1995 (starting with the first big Apple news site, MacCentral). He loves to read, run, play sports, and watch movies.