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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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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.

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