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Tin foil hat time
The other day I had to replace the ink cartridge in my HP printer, and the new one included a convenient pre-paid return envelope to recycle the old one. I thought that was pretty cool.

The next morning (in the shower, of course) I had a great conspiracy theory thought. Modern ink cartridges are more than just ink reservoirs, they have the print head built in. And they have some basic intelligence to tell the printer their ink level, type of cartridge, etc. Some have had crypto chips designed to make it hard for 3rd parties to offer compatible replacements.

So what if each cartridge contained flash memory and recorded everything it was told to print. Or maybe just documents that contained keywords (it could have a rolling buffer and only store documents that match some list). It wouldn't even have to record the text per se, just the print commands - that's easily decoded back to text since you just re-run the sequence to 're-print' the same thing. Offering free recycling gets your marks to do the work of sending the intelligence back to you. And remember, in the past typewriter and printer ribbons have been used, many times, as sources of intelligence since you can often see the letters that have been struck on the used ribbon. And there are known tricks from the cold war including using Xerox repairmen to plan cameras in foreign embassy copy machines so that every document copied was also photographed.

Yes, it is totally out there and, no, i don't believe this is happening. But just a little bit of paranoia for those wary of the panopticon. Doing something like this gets easier all the time, think of just how small microSD cards are.

And now that's going to be in your brain.

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z_gryphon From: z_gryphon Date: October 26th, 2008 02:37 am (UTC) (Direct Link)
There absolutely needs to be an are-these-guys-serious webpage about this.
zonereyrie From: zonereyrie Date: October 26th, 2008 09:38 am (UTC) (Direct Link)
One of the "What THEY don't want you to know!" sites?

Hmm, could be a bit of fun. RecyclingTruth.com is available...
phred1973 From: phred1973 Date: October 26th, 2008 10:51 am (UTC) (Direct Link)
Could deconstruct one, and thoroughly investigate the pieces...
srmalloy From: srmalloy Date: October 27th, 2008 04:31 am (UTC) (Direct Link)
Well, there are a number of things that your inkjet printer does... All recent color printers have firmware that makes them automatically print a micropattern of yellow ink on all documents; this was required by the federal government to allow them to identify inkjet printers when they started being used to make counterfeit currency.

The chip in the printer cartridge, though, doesn't actually record the ink usage; the printer keeps track of page count and type of printing and writes back what the "expected" ink consumption should be, and tells you that it's low on ink based on those assumptions about what you're printing. This may be sooner or later than you would actually run low on ink in the cartridge. When you swap cartridges, the printer reads the chip in the 'new' cartridge to determine how to set its ink level.

This has resulted in a number of workarounds for the people who refill print cartridges like HP uses or the ink tanks used in Epson printers -- putting in a new cartridge, turning the printer off, swapping the new cartridge for a refilled one, then turning it back on, for example. There are also various chip resetter devices that will store 'full' in the chip's memory. For printers that use ink tanks, with a permanent printhead in the printer, like the Epson printers, this isn't a problem. For HP printers, which have the printhead as an integral part of the cartridge, you can't refill cartridges more than two or three times, because the printhead isn't designed for a long life. Also, since the HP technology relies on boiling a tiny amount of the ink to create the pressure to push a drop of ink to the paper, the printhead relies on having the liquid ink to cool it; if you let a cartridge go dry, you stand a good chance of burning out the printhead, rendering the cartridge useless.
zonereyrie From: zonereyrie Date: October 27th, 2008 04:43 am (UTC) (Direct Link)
Yeah, I know about the micropattern. If I do the spoof site I plan to include that as 'supporting evidence' to make it more believable - as all good conspiracy theories do. ;-)
dornbeast From: dornbeast Date: October 27th, 2008 04:57 pm (UTC) (Direct Link)
It's a good thing that they can't count on computers having internet access, or they'd just check for an open internet connection and dump the data periodically.
mdyesowitch From: mdyesowitch Date: October 27th, 2008 05:03 pm (UTC) (Direct Link)
Don't forget the All-in-Ones. They can monitor copies and scans as well.