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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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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.

"Death Is Very Likely The Single Best Invention Of Life" -- Steve Jobs

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