How anything you print can be traced back to You.

Manav Garg
Jun 14, 2017 · 3 min read
tracking dots

Anything you print today, be it an office document, a photo of you and your loved ones or just something off of the internet, can be traced back to the machine it was printed on.

Allow me to show you.

Please download this pdf. It’s a normal document, printed on a specific printer, then scanned and converted into a pdf.

Open it. You can open it with your browser or a pdf reader. You’ll see something like this


You see all that white space around the document? good, zoom on the upper left side. Zoom till your view becomes something like this

zoomed pdf

Great. Now take a screenshot of your zoomed document. If you don’t know how to take a screenshot, just download the above image. It’ll work just fine.

Open your screenshot in your image editor (paint in windows, paintbrush in Mac), and invert the colors. To see how to invert colors in Windows Paint, go here.

Now zoom on the black area. Zoom.

Did you see it? Those blue dots? forming a pattern there. Yes, that’s the code that can track you down.

One last thing to do. Flip the image rotate the image 180 degrees, clockwise (it’s default).

Now go here, you’ll have to manually make that pattern. It’ll look something like this


Submit it. You see that.

Row and column parity verified correctly.
Printer serial number: 535218 [or 29535218]
Date: May 9, 2017
Time: 06:20

You got everything down from the serial number of the printer used to the exact date and time it was printed on. And guess what? these codes are all over your printed material.

Not only your printer but the photocopier in your office, even a blank sheet of paper can tell a lot (read more about it here). There are even tools with memory that will retain whatever goes through them.

Should I be worried about it?

I don’t know… let’s look at the few scenarios:

  1. May be you are a regular employee or a student. You get your ID card photocopied at some public place. What you didn’t know was that photocopier has memory. So now, I, the owner of the photocopier can print as many ID of yours as I want and use them on your behalf. I can even edit that ID card image and print an ID for anyone. That may be a huge problem for you.
  2. May be you are a whistleblower. You need that document to prove that something very wrong is going on. But, in order to submit them as a proof, you’ll have to print them. That print can cost you your identity and in some cases, your life.
  3. May be you copied something for your friend or customer. Next thing you know you get a court notice from the publishing company because you weren’t supposed to make copies of that document.

feels far fetched? I wonder next time you print something… would you be worried…

Hit the heart and lemme know you liked it :)

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