New Google Tool Makes Snoopers Vomit Rainbows

John Lister's picture

Google researchers are working on a way to warn users when someone else might be sneaking a peek at your smartphone. They say it can spot a gaze in just two milliseconds.

The project is the work of Hee Jung Ryu and Florian Schroff, who'll demonstrate their work at a conference on Neural Information Processing Systems. It's based on a remarkably simple concept with some smart technology.

Front Camera is Key to Tool

In its current form, the system runs on a Google Pixel phone and takes advantage of the front-facing camera - the one typically used for face / video conferencing before it became dubbed the "selfie camera."

The system not only detects human eyes in the picture, but figures out the precise direction they are looking in and the person's position. The idea is to decide if they are intentionally looking at the phone's screen or merely looking in that general direction.

If the system detects two sets of eyes (that is those of the phone user and somebody else) it can give an alert. In a demonstration video, this involved the phone switching to a camera view with a crude message reading "STRANGER is LOOKING ALERT!!!", a red box around their face, and an animation of rainbow vomit falling from their mouth. (Source:

Suffice to say, this particular alert is for the cultural amusement of the researchers and would be somewhat refined if the software was released publicly.

Older Phones Might Struggle

There are a couple of things needed to make this feature a viable tool on Android phones. One is that the detection would have to accurately distinguish between a person deliberately looking at the screen, compared to merely happening to glance at it by accident.

The other issue is that artificial intelligence is needed to accurately calculate whether or not a stranger is in fact looking over your shoulder. This is often done by sending data over the Internet to remote servers for processing. In the demo, this was possible but in reality this would likely add too much of a delay to be useful. (Source:

That said, the processing power needed to run the application means it will only run on high end smartphones. And, since it's an app that is constantly running in the background, it also means that it will drain battery and eat bandwidth constantly. That may be enough to make it not very user friendly unless you have exceptional battery life, a cutting edge phone, and lots of bandwidth to spare.

What's Your Opinion?

Would you find such a feature useful? Thinking of the way you use your phone in public, do you ever have data or information on the screen that could be embarrassing or threaten privacy or security if somebody else saw it? Can you see this becoming a real phone feature or is it more of an experiment?

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BugsleyClown's picture

I can shift my position, to prevent unwanted glimpses of my phone, when needed.
I don't feel very comfortable having Google, Ogling my eyes, every time I use my phone.

Dennis Faas's picture

I remember back in the early IBM XT and PC days they used to sell these silk screens (?) that were black and made it near impossible to view the monitor screen from any angle UNLESS you were looking at it dead straight on. I don't see why that couldn't be used today on smartphones, though using it would severely restrict the usability of the phone.

odiesdad83_3480's picture

Boo Boo I think those were yesterday?????? Could be wrong. .. Howard. . . . .

buzzallnight's picture

low tech

put a mirror on the top of your phone??????????