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October 17, 2005
Little. Yellow. Cracked.
I've been complaining about Blizzard using its Terms of Service (TOS) to justify spying on gamers (I Spy With My Little EULA), but sometimes companies don't offer even the illusion of choice. Your printer could be ratting you out right now, and you wouldn't have the faintest clue.
Yes, I said printer. You see, a couple months ago we learned that at the request of the Secret Service, some printer manufacturers are secretly encoding information in color print-outs that can be used to identify where the document came from. The information appears as little yellow dots that you can see only if you use a blue light and a magnifying glass or microscope. No, really.
Today, EFF announced that it has cracked the code. The results should be of great interest to attorneys in discovery proceedings. Why? Those little yellow dots will tell anyone who can decipher them the date and time your document was printed, as well as the serial number of the printer. That makes a paper document more like email -- it reveals much more nuanced, and potentially signifcant, information about a particular communication than its "content."
Okay. So maybe you're not worried about what your videogame and printer may be revealing about you. But everyone should be worried about living in a world filled with innocuous-seeming devices that enable unprecedented, pervasive, routine surveillance. Lee Tien says it best: "[Printer surveillance] shows how the government and private industry make backroom deals to weaken our privacy by compromising everyday equipment like printers. The logical next question is: what other deals have been or are being made to ensure that our technology rats on us?"
Update: Jonathan Zittrain @ TechNewsWorld: "Counterfeiting is a serious problem, and there ought to be some way to prevent its undue exacerbation through color printing technologies without compromising the anonymity of every single document the printer might ever be asked to print."
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