Monday, October 27, 2008

It begins!

Hi. My name is Brahm. I own a Lexmark C530dn printer. I bought it in the summer of 2007 from the Campus Computer Store at the University of Saskatchewan. It's an excellent color laser printer, and I really like it, but I have one problem - it prints a near-invisible matrix of yellow dots on everything I print.

I read about the dots, and read something crazy: that the dots could be used to encode information into every page you print, like the time and date you printed the document, and the serial number of your printer.

Not a big deal, right? This issue has huge implications on customer privacy. Imagine if every document you ever printed could be traced back to you - every resume, every letter, every assignment, every government document printed online. It would be equivalent to if every dollar you ever spent could be traced back to you, or if any act you ever committed anonymously could be traced back to you. It's an invasion of privacy, and a violation of free speech by losing the ability to communicate with anonimity.

I feel that, in terms of my printing habits, I have nothing to hide, and will be updating with blog with "sensitive" information about my printer without hesitation. This includes my printer's serial number, which happens to be 9416FX1.

These webpages were my two starting links:
Electronic Frontier Foundation -
Massachusetts Institute of Technology -

I'm starting this blog to document my experiences in contacting Lexmark customer support, or any additional information I stumble across. Please feel free to email me at or leave a comment on this blog!


  1. Trying to figure out if you are surprised.

    Same yellow dots are on photocopiers too. The point is to enable tracking of where the page was printed/copied etc so that law enforcement and digital rights lawyers can tie a particular printing device to a particularly printed page. Also they are unique to the printer, so a fun experiment is to take your printed output and photocopy it.

  2. I thought this feature was implemented to trace counterfeit money that people were making with their home computers.

    Also, I know that many scanners will not allow you to scan paper currency, without throwing an error.

  3. @Chuck - I was originally surprised when I started "investigating".

    I understand the idea behind counterfeit protection, but I think there's a valid argument to be made for the right to unhindered, anonymous free speech. If every sheet of paper you run through a printer is tagged with a serial number, suddenly your anonymous letters can be traced.

    Personally I believe the "right answer" is less tracking and tracing - I haven't read many (or any, actually) real accounts of someone being busted based on these dots being present. It's an unnecessary level of tracking imposed on all citizens (and I'm Canadian - should I be subject to this deal that the US Secret Service brokered with printer manufacturers?).

    Lots to discuss :)