Good piece by AP on a Electronic Frontier Foundation report saying that tracking codes in color laser printers have been cracked. The report points to dots embedded in Xerox’s color laser printers that appear on the printed page, which can then be traced back to particular printers:
By analyzing test pages printed out by supporters worldwide and by staffers at various FedEx Kinko’s locations, researchers found that some of the dots correspond to the printers’ serial numbers. Other dots refer to the date and time of the printing.
This is done, AP says, to foil currency counterfeiters, but could just as easily be used by governments to track down criminals or dissidents. This is not just the typewriter trick, where a document could be traced back to a particular typewriter, or make of typewriter, by quirks in the typeface and letter alignment. Although that is a part of it: by comparing two documents it is possible to conclude they are from the same printer, which would poleax a suspect accused of being behind a document just by printing something from their printer.
But although the article doesn’t mention it, I assume these tracking codes could also allow people to track down a suspect, by looking at the serial number and following the distribution of that printer. Unless the purchaser chose to cover his tracks, it shouldn’t be too hard to trace the printer through the country, town, retailer and credit card receipt. (With the time stamp included, it should be possible to track down the customer even if the end user is in a public printshop.) I’m guessing here, but it all seems plausible.
It’ll be interesting to see where EFF goes with this. Me? I’m no dissident but I’m not crazy about anyone being able to trace back what I print out.
My favourite inkjet refill machine, the Singaporean-made Inke, is going for the big time.
A release from the company says that Inke islaunching versions compatible with 305 different kinds of printers and 12 brands including HP, Lexmark, Samsung, Kodak, Compaq, Sharp, Sony, NewGen Sys, Apple, Pitney Bowes and Apollo. They are as follows:
- INKE LX-70 to refill the Lexmark 70 (12A1970) and Lexmark 75 (12A1975)
- INKE LX-50 to refill Lexmark 17G0050 and Sharp AJ0C50B
- INKE HS-29 to refill HP 29 (51629A), HP 20 (C6614DN) and HP 19 (C6628AN) cartridges.
The devices are beautifully designed, pretty unmessy, and inexpensive: Each unit costs Euro 70 before VAT and include 3 ink tanks. Each additional ink tank costs Euro 10. Inke reckons “a user can save up to Euro 350 in ink costs over a 3 year period”. I don’t think they’re exaggerating.
The old INKE HS-45 is now available in Europe, or at least in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Greece, Spain, Italy, Hungary and Poland. Inke says it plans nine models altogether this year. I’ve been using mine for nearly a year and it’s been great.
This sounds useful, and is one of those things I would have thought was already available: a USB server. Say you’ve got a network and you want to share your USB devices with other folk on the network. At the moment you could do so, if it was a printer, or a hard-drive, but it would have to go through your computer, and things could get pretty bunged up. Keyspan reckon they have the answer: Today they will unveil their USB server in Las Vegas, which will allow users to hook up to four (Mac or Windows) USB devices — printers, hard drives, scanners, modems, etc — on a wired or wireless network for the princely sum of $130.
As they point out, it could be very useful for Wi-Fi addicts, who, like some of my home network users, like to move their laptops around a lot and don’t want to be encumbered by annoying peripherals jutting out of their USB ports.
One in the eye for the printer manufacturers
: IDG reports
that a ruling this week from the U.S. Copyright Office could have broad effects on the market for low-cost, third-party printer cartridges.Lexmark is suing manufacturer Static Control Components (SCC) of Sanford, North Carolina, which makes computer chips for third-party ink cartridges. Lexmark says SCC’s chips contain copyrighted Lexmark computer code and consequently violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) ban on circumventing digital technology that protects copyrighted material.
Without taking a position on whether SCC’s chips illegally incorporate Lexmark code, the Copyright Office has ruled that the DMCA does not block such usage.
Last year Lexmark began using a chip in some of its cartridges that communicates with the company’s printers and verifies that the cartridge is from Lexmark. Without that verification, the cartridge won’t work. SCC’s Smartek chips mimic the Lexmark chips so third-party cartridges can pose as official ones.
Somewhat bizarre ruling from a U.S. jury in favour of what I think are some rather dodgy practices on behalf of printer manufacturer HP
. The Herald-Sun reports that the jury concluded that the average consumer purchasing a Hewlett-Packard printer did not expect that the cartridges provided with the printers would be the same as full replacement cartridges. It also concluded that Hewlett-Packard adequately disclosed to the average consumer that the cartridges provided with the printers would be half-filled with ink. This despite the fact that the only disclosure is on the inside of the box, according to techdirt.
Similar lawsuits have been brought in 32 other states against Hewlett-Packard, and the company has won 13 of them, all before the cases went to trial. The trial in Orange County Superior Court was the first of the class-action suits that went to a full trial.
The chips are down
Unsurprisingly, computer printer cartridges are more expensive than vintage champagne
. An investigation by British consumer group Which? published yesterday
found that “Epson inkjet cartridges stopped printing even though in some cases there was enough ink to print over a third more pages”.
Here’s the full press release:
“Many of the printers tested gave premature warnings to change ink and toner cartridges, but most gave users the option of continuing printing. However, embedded into Epson’s ink cartridges are chips that stop the cartridge working before the ink runs out. A Which? researcher managed to override this system and print up to 38 per cent more good quality pages, even though the chips stated that the cartridge was empty.
“Epson cartridges are pricey – a T026201 cartridge costs about £21 and holds approximately 12ml of ink. This works out at around £1.75 per millilitre for ink, which makes it over seven times more expensive than vintage champagne (a bottle of 1985 Dom Perignon works out at about 23p per millilitre).
“Epson said that customers are free to reset these chips to get more ink out, but it will continue to use them ‘to protect the customer from accidentally damaging their printer or producing sub-standard print quality, by unknowingly draining the ink cartridge and damaging the print head.’
“Which? experts think that damaging the print head is unlikely if consumers stop printing as soon as they see a drop in quality.”
I’ve harped on before about the sleazy price of cartridges. I hadn’t thought of comparing it to bubbly, though. Good one.