Google's AI can identify and shame shoulder surfers


TechSpot Editor
Staff member

Have you ever been using your smartphone in a public place and felt like another pair of eyes were watching your screen? It seems that snooping on other people’s handsets is becoming popular, and while some do it out of sheer nosiness, there are those that shoulder surf to try and steal sensitive information. But a new AI tool developed by Google researchers could offer a solution.

At December's Neural Information Processing Systems Conference in California, researchers See Jung Ryu and Florian Schroff are set to demonstrate a project called the electronic screen protector.

The system combines a phone’s front-facing camera and some facial/gaze-detection algorithms to determine if someone other than the user has their eyes on a screen. In the demo video, those caught spying are shamed with some rainbow vomit.

The electronic screen protector works in all types of lighting conditions, and because the processing takes place on the phone instead of Google’s cloud servers, the system can detect someone in just two milliseconds.

ZDNet notes that the tool may use facial-recognition neural network FaceNet along with GazeNet, a gaze-estimation neural network.

Whether Google intends to bring the system to Android at some point in the future is unclear. It may eventually become an optional feature in handsets, though we don’t know what kind of impact it might have on a phone’s battery life when enabled.

Earlier this month, a survey of over 37,000 people found that 45 percent of them had sneaked a look at someone else’s smartphone while in public places or commuting.

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TS Evangelist
Yet another adolescent crap app. If this thing is shaming someone because they glance at your screen for two-milliseconds, I suggest that anyone using it needs to get a life. If challenged because of a glance at someone's screen (a glance will surely take longer than two-milliseconds), I would be more inclined to tell the challenger to get a life or worse.
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TS Evangelist
What this means is that they are looking at you from the front while someone is looking over your shoulder.


TS Evangelist
If that girl doesn't realise that a man is standing right behind her for some length of time, then she's got bigger problems than someone sneaking a peak at her IM chats. How close would you have to be behind someone to make out the tiny writing on their phone?
Is there such a thing as privacy filters for phones, like you can get on monitors? Maybe even an app that could simulate it.
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Slappy McPhee

TS Addict
Apparently those that have made stupid comments so far are not security specialists or experts.......oh, yeah, you most likely aren't. People that want to phish information from you by shoulder surfing are out there and you very well may not even notice. Nobody has eyes in the back of their heads, well, maybe the few of you commenters do and if so that is awesome for you.


TS Enthusiast
Actually I am in IT security so I assume that makes me a specialist and to be honest I dont see alot of people looking over other peoples shoulders trying to Phish bank account information and if they are looking at your account info its not a big deal if you closely monitor your bank/credit card statements. Also once the "stranger danger alert" is put out what does the phone do with that information other than slowing you the persons picture? does it register the person in some database or post this info. As for the publicly shaming thing from what I could gather on research it just does some snapchat like filter on the person and displays some warning on the phone.

So although this is an interesting aspect of mobile device security they are going about it in the wrong way. What they should be doing with this is to remind people that you should not be looking at personal banking information \passwords in a public place or expose yourself to un needed security risks( ie common sense).

In the end I recommend this to all of my users. "be smart" dont bank on public terminals, keep your passwords unsecured like in a notepad or stored in your phones note taking software. Change your passwords often and overall use your own measure of what is right and wrong common sense is a big thing people lack at times and all we can do is hope they get it eventually /end rant