Jaeheon Shim
Hi! I'm Jaeheon Shim, a computer programmer and technology enthusiast. Here on Learn The Technology, I write about technology and the effect it is having on our modern world. I write about a broad range of topics, ranging from 3D Printing to Cybersecurity.

Printers may be adding secret tracking dots to your documents…

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Major printer companies such as Xerox have made an agreement with government authorities to print a special sequence of yellow dots on paper. These dots can be used to identify when and where the document was printed.

Althought might not see it, it is likely that your laser or inkjet printer has a built in functionality to print tiny yellow tracking dots on your documents. These dots can only be seen under blue light, and are arranged in a specific patter that can be used to identify when and on which printer the document was printed.

This fact is obviously disturbing to many people. I would definetely not want the government to track every bit of information I bring into the physical world. During the early days of commercial printers, Xerox and other major companies were trying to assure that their printers would not be used for forgery or other illegal purposes. The companies decided to use a watermark that would be printed on every single page the printer printed.

I personally think the printer market is sketchy. They keep on raising ink prices, show empty cartridges even when the cartridge is a quarter full, and add tracking dots to all your documents. Some sources claim to have leaked information from the NSA that can be used to decode the information stored on these dots.
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I personally think that this is unfair to us. We should be able to use a device we own without worrying that the government is tracking us. Just like when the NSA plants backdoors in phones so they can hack them, this is forensic science going too far.

There is already a public case regarding this:
On June 3, FBI investigators successfully tracked down a government contractor named Reality Leigh Winner in Agusta, Georgia. They claimed that Winner had admitted printing highly classified documents from the NSA and sending it to The Intercept. But closer analysis showed that the yellow tracking dots were clearly visible on the image of the document. The FBI declines that they used these dots to track down the suspect, but something seems fishy.
The Intercept said:

Winner faces allegations that have not been proven. The same is true of the FBI’s claims about how it came to arrest Winner.

This concept is similar to the EURion Constellation. I don’t care about that, because I don’t plan on making any fake money anytime. But I am slightly annoyed that the NSA tracks our own devices without us knowing. BBC says in an article:

Many colour printers add the dots to documents without people ever knowing they’re there.

I mean, come on government. You already repealed Net Neutrallity, at least maybe you can give us a heads up when you are about to track our daily lives for criminal activity. Also, don’t mess with me. I’m not a terrorist. This blog post is based soely on my opinions, so take it with a grain of salt.


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