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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Your Printer? Well, It’s Watching You. And I Told You So.

posted by on July 15 at 10:18 AM

Precisely one year ago today I warned you that your printer was spying on you. I warned you! (Dammit! Why wouldnít you listen? WHY?) I wrote a great big Slog about it.


But you didnít really pay attention, did you? You didnít feel so inclined to believe me. There was scoffing. And eye-rolling. And a copious amount of ďOh, that crazazy Adrian!Ē-ing, Iíll just bet. (Admit it!) But if you havenít learned it yet, get on the ball bitches: Adrian is always right about EVERYTHING. Everything! Every little thing ever. Always. Period. Thank you and good night.

I know. Itís my curse.

Look (from yesterdayís so-called ďheadlinesĒ):

More manufacturers are outfitting greater numbers of laser printers with technology that leaves microscopic yellow dots on each printed page to identify the printer’s serial number - and ultimately, you, says the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the leading watchdogs of electronic privacy.

The technology has been around for years, but the declining price of laser printers and the increasing number of models with this feature is causing renewed concerns.

Yes, that was from yesterday: as in 364 days after I initially reported it. And you know what that means? Right. The world is moving a little faster than usual. Iím usually at least two years ahead.

And next time youíll listen. WONíT YOU?


RSS icon Comments


Sorry, Adrian, we stopped listening to you years ago.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | July 15, 2008 10:29 AM

You should change your name to Cassandra.

Posted by Ziggity | July 15, 2008 10:29 AM

Don't buy the yellow toner!

Posted by E | July 15, 2008 10:31 AM

To quote somebody from the post ONE YEAR AGO

"This has been out for a while. Note the Washington Post article from 2005"

Posted by Non | July 15, 2008 10:36 AM
Posted by Mike | July 15, 2008 10:40 AM

Damn. Now I'll have to find another way to print my counterfeit bills.

Posted by keshmeshi | July 15, 2008 10:41 AM

Another good reason not to turn in manufacturer registration slips or register software, I suppose.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | July 15, 2008 10:47 AM

Speaking of counterfeiting, ever tried to open a document in Photoshop with even a small portion of any US paper currency displayed? Photoshop freaks out and won't let you print.

And now you know.

Posted by UNPAID BLOGGER | July 15, 2008 10:47 AM

And of course, ink jet printers are completely unaffected by this, correct?

Posted by COMTE | July 15, 2008 10:56 AM

This is why is still use cut-out letters from magazines to send anonymous threatening letters.

Posted by rb | July 15, 2008 11:00 AM

you may have aid it one year ago, but i heard it from schneier and the eff and several other places 3 years ago.

Posted by King Rat | July 15, 2008 11:12 AM

What Napoleon said. They couldn't identify you if you didn't register the printer/software and paid cash for the printer (and even that might not be necessary).

Posted by w7ngman | July 15, 2008 11:26 AM

Which will usher in a world with printouts lacking red, orange, yellow, or green, as civil libertarians and privacy advocates cover their empty yellow ink cartridges with duct tape.

And usher in a niche market for fake yellow cartridges that fake a "full" status to the printer.

Shit, I shoulda kept that one to myself.

Posted by K | July 15, 2008 11:26 AM

@8, I just opened a pretty high-res picture of a $1 bill from Wikimedia Commons in Photoshop CS2 and printed it, and it worked fine.

Posted by Fnarf | July 15, 2008 11:37 AM

Only a sucker would buy a color printer anyway. The cost of the inks, OY!

Posted by Sirkowski | July 15, 2008 11:42 AM

@14 It seems to be primarily $20 bills that photoshop has a problem with. See:

Posted by N | July 15, 2008 11:47 AM

Are you afraid your ransom note or fake $20s will be traced back to you?

Posted by elswinger | July 15, 2008 11:48 AM

Typewriters have had that serial number printing system forever. I don't see how this is anything really important or new.

Posted by Truth | July 15, 2008 12:13 PM

Your printer's been spying on you since the late 80s, actually.

All chipsets in printers are designed so they can be taken over by the NSA.

We used them to disrupt networks and gather intel during the first Gulf War, FWIW.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 15, 2008 12:58 PM

For most people, most of the time, this sort of thing doesn't matter. But if you ever find yourself in a situation where it does matter, this problem is fairly easy to work around:

1. Print letter.

2. Go to public library, or someplace else with a copy machine you can use without being observed.

3. Place sheet of clear plastic wrap over letter and make one copy on library copier.

4. Make copy of copy, using plastic wrap filter. Repeat until 4th generation.

5. Handle final copy with gloves.

That's pretty much Espionage 101, up there with, "Only write on single sheets of paper, on hard surfaces."

Posted by Judah | July 15, 2008 1:49 PM
All chipsets in printers are designed so they can be taken over by the NSA.

We used them to disrupt networks and gather intel during the first Gulf War, FWIW.

That crack is a little stronger than you're used to, Will.
Posted by Fnarf | July 15, 2008 1:53 PM

@21 - you mean you didn't know that? It's a requirement, actually.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 15, 2008 2:28 PM

Oh Will, you credulous hack. Your myth is just a variation on this famous April Fool's joke:

What's that old saying? It's not what you don't know that that's scary, it's what you think you know that just ain't so that is truly frightening.

Posted by gnossos | July 15, 2008 9:21 PM

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