We’ve discussed Google’s new “Human Presence Sensing” technology before, and we’ve also spoken about how they are beginning to integrate it into Chrome OS via the camera. It’s pretty simple, actually – if your Chromebook senses your presence or sees you, it can do a variety of things solely based on that. If it doesn’t see you, it can take opposing actions. Until recently, we just haven’t had much information on what exactly those actions would be though.
Then, “Snooping detection” appeared on Chrome Canary as a developer flag, and with it, the ability to “sense” whether or not someone was looking over your shoulder at your device. If your camera saw another face behind you in a coffee shop or anywhere else, it would place an eyeball icon in your system tray to make you aware that you were being shoulder surfed.
This doesn’t yet work, but that’s the idea at this early stage of the feature’s development. Now, a new developer flag on Chrome OS Canary called “Enable lock on leave”, which was first discovered by Chrome Story, seeks to take that HPS tech a bit further and automatically dim and lock your device when it no longer senses your presence.
Enable lock on leave
Enables lock on leave feature to better dim or lock the device. Can be enabled and disabled from the Smart privacy section of your device settings. – Chrome OS#quick-dim
As you can see, lock on leave enables a feature that will automatically dim your Chromebook’s display after a period of “inactivity”. I don’t mean inactivity in the traditional sense of mouse and keyboard or even touchscreen input, but rather when the camera doesn’t see you for a set period of time. In the image above, a new “Smart privacy protections section in the Security and Privacy area of the Settings app (Where Snooping Detection is housed) gives us more details about the new smart screen lock features.
“This feature uses the front camera for detection. The data is securely processed and discarded afterwards. Google doesn’t use your data for any other purposes.”Smart screen lock – Screen locks automatically if you walk off and won’t turn off if you’re in front of it.
My best guess is that the display will automatically dim at these intervals before locking shortly thereafter if your camera continues to sense your absence. Upon returning to your screen and sitting back in your seat, the device should “undim” according to a commit that Chrome Story found, but there’s no indication that it will be able to unlock your device if it already got that far in the process. However, with face unlock likely becoming a thing with HPS, I’m willing to bet that everything will be perfectly automated by the time this releases to the public. Quick dim is obviously a step towards face unlock, in my opinion.
The flag itself has a few settings – you can choose a 30 second, 120 second, or instantaneous screen dim and lock. At this time, these options aren’t listed in the Settings app, and the feature itself is not working on either of my devices, but that’s probably due to the fact that Human Presence Sensing has only been tested on ‘Zork’ and ‘Volteer’ boards (like the Ryzen AMD devices and 11th-gen Intel Tiger Lake devices) so far.
I really love that this is a feature that’s being considered for Chromebooks. It cements Google’s continued commitment to make them the most innovative and forward-thinking laptops in the industry. This will likely prevent many devices from being snooped or scoped out in coffee shops or other public locations when the user gets up to get their drink or to use the restroom.
Honestly, I’ve never understood leaving your Chromebook on the table and walking away, but that’s probably because I live in an area where you just don’t have that kind of trust for the strangers sipping down their latte near you. Still, it’s a common practice, and although it accounts for a high percentage of stolen tech each year, Google’s innovations will help keep data safe.