The idea that printer ink cartridges could be monitoring everyone's printing activities may be one conspiracy theory too far. But in fact, while inkjet cartridges are not the tools of secret government agents, the reality is that the standard inkjet printer could have left a hidden spy trail back to base.
It was a well kept secret that only came light comparatively recently. Over twenty years ago, secret technology was created in an attempt to prevent the counterfeit printing of paper money, official certificates and classified documents. As a result, it became perfectly possible to enable the originator of a forgery produced on high quality, advanced printing machines to be tracked back from the printed false document.
All that is known of the method of detection is that it was based on a microscopic dot pattern encryption. Even now, the information is still classified. However, it is still possible to discover if a printer still possesses the means to secretly encode a page of printed text by carefully examining the page under a strong, bright light. A very close scrutiny should begin to reveal a barely visible pattern of yellow dots covering the entire surface of the page.
The microscopic yellow dots are encoded, date and time stamped, which enables government or other official security agencies to track back to locate the printer that originally created the page. Although, ongoing official secrecy has always been maintained, some reports did come to light surrounding the ‘yellow dot code' in the periods 2004 and 2008.
It's almost certain that the main intention was to only have the ability to track serious, large scale forgery operations using the limited number of advanced technology printers available at the time. However, there have been huge price reductions in colour laser printers on the mass market. It was probably not foreseen that irrespective of size or price, countless numbers of small or home-based businesses, as well as company and corporates will have a printer containing the tracking technology. Research conducted previously has found that top brand colour laser printers aimed at the home user market were discovered to contain yellow dot encryption technology.
Unfortunately, there is nothing to prevent any one, single page printed on a ‘yellow dot code' carrying laser printer to be tracked back to the original printing source. However, considerable advances in tracking technology have been developed in recent years. The upside is that it's almost certain that a new-generation of highly sophisticated and impossible-to-detect encrypted tracking sensors would have replaced the original yellow dots.
Therefore, it is highly unlikely – although, not entirely impossible – that any modern office or home business would now possess a working ink printer which would contain the original yellow dot tracking technology.