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HP's web-connected printer, set to air later this month will be capable of being targeted by ads from a third party that may automatically print out in full-color glory, all on the user's dime. HP insists it will not do anything like that. But it has teamed up with Yahoo to deliver printed ad-driven content such as newspapers or magazines.  (Source: HP)
Connecting your printer to the web could have some significant downsides...

Hewlett Packard's new web-connected ePrint printers are coming this month and should be able to print email, documents, and photos remotely.  While the prospect of a webOS driven printer alone is somewhat exciting, it was a bit hard to figure out just why HP was so enthusiastic about the new devices.

We might have just received an answer to that question.  HP is apparently looking to use the platform partly as an ad delivery service.  It has partnered with Yahoo's advertising team to deploy ad-driven content.

In current trials the scheme works like this -- a customer can remotely print certain "ad-free" content, such as personal emails.  However, they can also sign up for reoccurring content like newspaper and magazine articles.  That content would print along with a set of ads.  

Users participating in the scheme would, of course, have to pay the cost of ink to print those ads.  HP claims that people are very excited about the idea.  Stephen Nigro, senior vice president in HP's Imaging and Printing Group states, "What we discovered is that people were not bothered by it [an advertisement].  Part of it I think our belief is you're used to it. You're used to seeing things with ads."

HP's staff acknowledges that there's a need to respect the customer. Nigro also points out that the printers have a unique IP address and states, "Through IP (Internet Protocol) sniffing, you have an idea about where those printers are so naturally it allows you to kind of already target your offers."

Sniffing could allow for HP to target ads based on location, by looking up data requests and comparing those IPs to a list of registered users (with locations and gender, which could be used for targeting purposes).  That raises an interesting point, though.  If the printer is on a home wireless connection it may be discoverable.  And that means that it could in theory receive unsolicited advertisements as well.

The idea of delivering ads via the printer may face legal challenges.  The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 banned sending ads over fax machines.  The law was slightly relaxed by the Junk Fax Prevention Act of 2005 [PDF].  The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates advertisement faxes, also passed additional modifications in 2006.

Neither law bans the receipt of solicited ads, which would be the case for newspaper content. The law does not offer specific provision for advertisements being sent over printers, but the FCC will likely soon take up the issue once these devices hit the market.

For now buyer beware -- if you purchase an ePrinter, you are purchasing a web connected device with its own unique identity (IP).  That identity could indeed allow for third parties to utilize the provided protocols and send ads to you, on your dime.  You may however be able to block such traffic, with sufficient savvy, including via filtering/firewall software.

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I think you missed the point...
By SocrPlyr on 6/17/2010 7:09:05 AM , Rating: 3
The point of the IP sniffing wasn't so random people could send ads, it was so that solicited ads could be targeted. If behind a router/firewall, I doubt the printer is discoverable, so the point you make is completely moot and useless. That is of course unless they have the printers set to just listen on a port, but I bet they have them set to open a port to HP servers instead. That way HP can both control content and it is not open to the world. Maybe I am wrong, but really I think they just mean that using a lookup for location on the connecting IP address, not allowing the printer to be discoverable.

RE: I think you missed the point...
By ksherman on 6/17/2010 7:53:14 AM , Rating: 2
No kidding. Wouldn't the printer receive an IP address from the home router? Then it's IP wouldn't be anything special, just some 192.168...

I get ads coming with a magazine/news subscription, that actually sounds kinda cool as an alternative to getting emails for those things.

RE: I think you missed the point...
By JasonMick on 6/17/10, Rating: -1
By SSDMaster on 6/17/2010 10:01:34 AM , Rating: 3
I agree that packet sniffing will be used to find the ID of the user requesting content and target ads to them based on it. As far as being discoverable, say on a simple home router setup, if the gateway is not firewalled, couldn't you just reroute pings to a series of IPs on the router and look for responses, and then try routing ads to those devices?


Most Router's are Firewall'd by default, even home ones. The only IP that someone would need is your external IP. The internal IP's wouldn't come into play (not sure if you implied this or not). As long as the Router is setup to forward the printing service traffic on whatever port is being used, then the printer should pick it up.

So as long as the internet printing "works" then the external IP is all that is needed to send print information to the printer. Now its up to HP to implement some kind of security to prevent unsolicited printing from occurring. And that really shouldn't be hard at all. (An encrypted password that needs to be entered for each print job for ex.)

By MrBlastman on 6/17/2010 10:08:12 AM , Rating: 2
What I think HP will do is have the printer respond to a particular port. It will also have its own ip address, but in order for it to operate properly through NAT (the majority of home wired/wireless connections use/support NAT), it will need the data fed to it on a particular port number (probably a really high one) to allow the port to be forwarded to just the printer to avoid confusion.

As for ping, just block ICMP and you're good at the router/firewall.

As for advertisers randomly looking for a printer... You might be able to block ping at the firewall, but, they can still run a portscan on it to probe for active devices behind it. Now, it would be a waste of their time to sit there and portscan all day long without first confirming there is an active host via ICMP--but--you never know how desperate some of these guys are. The next step you might take is having a modified hosts file on the firewall itself that is set to block _all_ traffic from particular IP addresses.

If you want to get better than that, set the router/firewall to only accept unsolicited traffic from a particular group of IP's. This does, however, severely limit from where you can send print requests from.

There is nothing wrong with packet sniffing per-say. I suppose, what HP is referring to is not neccesarily sniffing in a malicious way, they are simply collecting the IP addresses and their associated content in order to build a database of what this particular printer/user likes and then sell a list of those particulars to advertisers who would like to send printed, targeted ads based on their wants to them.

It is all about profit maximization. HP gives the printer away to you, charges exorbitant fees for the ink, sells your particulars to advertisers so they can send you ads which, in turn... helps them sell MORE ink!

HP wins. You lose. Victory is theirs. They've just increased their reoccuring revenue which will look great come time to report net income.

Personally, I wouldn't want to have a printer that furthers me being a tool.

RE: I think you missed the point...
By Etsp on 6/17/2010 10:28:07 AM , Rating: 2
Most home routers use Port Address Translation (Improperly called "NAT" by the routers themselves) which requires a device on the inside to initiate the conversation with something on the outside.

If you want something on the outside to initiate that conversation, you need to specifically forward that port to an internal IP address.

By SSDMaster on 6/17/2010 10:44:21 AM , Rating: 2
Good point. I was assuming HP wasn't going to have the home printers initiate the connection.

RE: I think you missed the point...
By wolrah on 6/17/2010 11:09:17 AM , Rating: 3
I agree that packet sniffing will be used to find the ID of the user requesting content and target ads to them based on it. To packet sniff, you need to be somewhere along the path and either physically compromise the line or have control over a router/switch. HP will most certainly not be packet sniffing home ISPs looking for these devices.

As far as being discoverable, say on a simple home router setup, if the gateway is not firewalled, couldn't you just reroute pings to a series of IPs on the router and look for responses, and then try routing ads to those devices?

What the hell are you talking about? Reroute pings? That doesn't mean anything and sounds like a line out of a Hollywood "hacking" scene. These devices are being sold for the home and SOHO market, in almost all cases that class of user will have a single IP address running through a NAT router. That means plain and simple if the router has not explicitly been configured to pass unsolicited inbound traffic to the printer it will not be "discoverable" from the outside by any third parties.

How this will almost certainly work is the printer will simply open up a connection to HP's servers when it detects an internet connection. The serial number or some other unique identifier for the device will be passed over the connection, allowing HP to know what device has just connected and thus tie it with the e-mail account mentioned in the previous article and any subscriptions chosen by the user.

A lot of people obviously haven't even read the article, since they're responding as if HP was pushing unsolicited ads to these printers when it's made quite clear that the ads would be attached to opt-in subscription content. If you don't want the ads, don't tell it to print the content.

RE: I think you missed the point...
By Helbore on 6/17/2010 4:33:39 PM , Rating: 1
If someone has their home router in bridge mode and has assigned public IPs to all their internal equipment, I think getting unsolicited ads on their printer is the least of their worries.

RE: I think you missed the point...
By Targon on 6/17/2010 8:36:38 AM , Rating: 2
There is a very easy method to see what the IP is on the router though. Just do a "phone home" mechanism where the printer talks to some HP print service server at HP, and the IP for the home network can be picked up, and then reported back to the printer(if needed).

The real key here is if they will force advertisements down, or if these web printing services will support both advertisement-free vs. advertisement-supported modes. Printing from my cell phone to my printer shouldn't come with advertisements, but printing something from the NY Times or some other online newspaper might. There might also be a subscription service, where you get the version with advertising if you don't pay, but if you pay the price for a subscription, you get it without advertisements.

A big part of the cost of newspapers is the expense of the printing process, or other delivery mechanism. So, the newspapers have to make their money in some way to cover expenses.

RE: I think you missed the point...
By KillerNoodle on 6/17/2010 8:35:37 AM , Rating: 2
With it being web based...I could see them making it a device that obtains an internal IP address (DHCP) and then uses a web based tunnel to get to HP servers. Using secure communications (https) the printer communicates with HP for the content. With the printer operating on port 80 a large number of firewalls will let the traffic go freely.

The "IP" for the printer, as far as HP would be concerned, would be a mac address or other unique key assigned to the printer as its key.

This would allow them to know who's printer it was even if you are connected to an ISP that dynamically assigns IP addresses or if you move across town/country.

RE: I think you missed the point...
By Targon on 6/17/2010 8:37:47 AM , Rating: 2
If the printer opens the socket to the server, you don't need to open port 80 since the connection originates from inside the local network, not from outside.

By hughlle on 6/17/2010 7:10:21 AM , Rating: 2
so basically HP are gambling that ignorance will sell the product? certainly this can work, but when the product needs refills.

i don't think they realise however, just ho short this ignorance will be. 1 month from release and you'll have some very irate customers asking why they are needing to spend a fair sum on new cartridges already. i assume these will be full colour ads.

By aharris on 6/17/2010 7:33:46 AM , Rating: 2
Absolutely. Until now there has been nothing people hate more about printing than replacing ink cartridges.

Somehow I think 'targeted ads straight to my WAN-connected printer' will surpass consumers' hatred for buying more ink.

By Suntan on 6/17/2010 11:25:32 AM , Rating: 3
I still fail to see how this is compelling. Why would I care about being able to print a page from anywhere I am at when I still have to physically travel to the printer to get the print? Wouldn’t it make sense to just print said page once you return to the area (local network) where the printer is?


By Lazarus Dark on 6/17/2010 11:45:43 AM , Rating: 2
Who prints so much anyway? I print something at home maybe once every couple months (usually a concert ticket or something). Even at work, I print way less than anyone else in the office, why waste paper when I can do most everything electronically?

By hughlle on 6/17/2010 12:09:30 PM , Rating: 2
it would be logical to have the usert be in control of what and what does not get printed (who here has had an email forwarded by their mother, they're like a mile long of just the same repeated forwarded email :D)

if that is the case then yeah, i don't see why someone would find the ability to print emails without the use of a computer, what's the point, i'd rather read the email and print it if i deem it paper worthy, which any rarely are.

i think they have a bigger market if they made printers and an app to sync via wireless your android handset and your printer and press print on the phone, not printer.
so ironically all books are trying to buck the trend and become digital and HP are trying to take digital emails and make them paper again. fail!

Ra! So this is how HP will manage to screw this...
By banvetor on 6/17/2010 8:55:26 AM , Rating: 1
When the news about HP buying Palm hit the web, and they were saying how they will use WebOS on many connected devices, I thought it could be a very interesting idea, but could not help but wonder how would HP manage to completely screw this...

Now I know. Great job, HP.

By MrFord on 6/17/2010 10:58:05 AM , Rating: 1
You can always count on HP to take something that works well and make it act like crap.
Like they managed to create a 400Mb drivers package that barely work, if at all.
They can't even get Wi-Fi to work on their printer, they even drop in USB mode, but they expect that we'll be able to print remotely on them.

They used to have rock-solid products, but it went down the drain as soon as they started to compete for the cheaper-than-the-ink-refill-will-cost market.

By Suntan on 6/17/2010 11:22:05 AM , Rating: 2
They used to have rock-solid products, but it went down the drain as soon as they started to compete for the cheaper-than-the-ink-refill-will-cost market.

So stop buying those cheap printers they are making. They do make quality printers too. We have HP printers throughout the office and they print/scan/fax/etc. all day long for a couple hundred workers.

Don’t buy cheap crap and then bellyache about it, but a quality printer if you want it to work well.


By omnicronx on 6/17/2010 12:20:01 PM , Rating: 2
Ya really.. if you are buying any printer (let alone HP) that costs less than the price of ink, what exactly do you expect?

Budget price = budget printer..

Let me just say...
By HomerTNachoCheese on 6/17/2010 1:24:19 PM , Rating: 2
I told you so! I saw this coming when Shane McGlaun posted the article titled, "HP Web-connected Printers Coming This Month, Will Print Via Email."

No Coin Printing ? :/
By Silver2k7 on 6/18/2010 4:01:27 AM , Rating: 2
Thought this printer would print on coins from reading the topic :/

"Folks that want porn can buy an Android phone." -- Steve Jobs

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