PrivateEye can help keep prying eyes at bay


POSTED: Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Digital Age has given us many wonderful things, among them a bountiful, fresh crop of 21st-century oxymorons (”;wireless tethering,”; “;visual voicemail,”; “;Microsoft Works,”; etc.).

But tops among these widely accepted contradictory phrases has got to be “;Internet privacy.”;

On some obvious, logical level, the whole concept of joining a globally connected communications system while maintaining any expectation of anonymity is absurd. It's like proposing marriage during halftime at a Dallas Cowboys game and getting all bent out of shape when you realize you're on the JumboTron.

Still, we're not living in a world where people go online just for special occasions—it's a daily routine. Often, if only for therapeutic purposes, bloggers post their deep-seated passions on topics that would often subject them to harsh judgments, if not outright retribution.

For example, someone could probably launch a risque Taylor Swift fan page and even keep it anonymous for some time. But if their IP address originates from Louisiana's Angola State Penitentiary, there will likely come a point where their ultimate Swift-centric portal will only last as long as they can in a hot box.

Searching for true Net privacy, then, is, like so many other frustrating endeavors in life—bargain hunting at Disney World, looking for a quiet place to just hang if you're a Jonas brother, scouring the Bravo reality-show lineup for a shred of human decency—an exercise in futility.

Still, in an effort to have our cake and hide it too, many of us are eager to utilize any tool designed to discourage at least the casual-level sleuths from intruding into our personal Web space, even if that personal Web space sits on professional hardware.

Most browsers now offer simple privacy settings (in Firefox they're under the “;Tools”; pull-down menu) that automatically cover your Web-surfing tracks. But this only works on those bold enough to keep your seat warm nosing around your desktop while you go to lunch. What to do about all those low-risk, high-reward over-the-shoulder glancing gossips?

PrivateEye software ($20, http://www.oculislabs.com) seems to offer the most elegant solution yet.

In office-building body-language parlance, it's now generally accepted that anyone who closes their computer's browser window the instant they sense an intruder approach from behind is hiding a guilty conscience—often an at-least-partially nude guilty conscience.

In truth, however, such actions have evolved into semi-involuntary reflexes to surprise cubicle attacks no matter the circumstance—often it's just our body acting in an abundance of caution.

Last week I caught myself nervously minimizing an e-mail request for more business cards—not partially nude business cards, just business cards.

But as The Baltimore Sun blogger Gus Sentementes reported recently, the folks at Oculis Labs feel our overexposed pain and want to help us hide it automatically.

Their PrivateEye consumer software can empower your webcam to recognize your particular eye movements, turning your screen to visual gobbledygook the moment you turn your head or the moment someone else's piercing gaze enters the camera's field of vision over your shoulder.

It even provides a mirrorlike pop-up window to let you know whether the looky-loo is friend or foe (hint: in office politics, friends are also foes).

So while inroads into online security are always being made, keep in mind anything approaching a privacy guarantee is still a distant pipe dream amid the vast online series of tubes.


Follow columnist Curt Brandao's Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/digitalslob.