The two printing manufacturers use the software to understand customer behaviour, and the installation on PCs is automatic once the users have consented. The companies say that they do not collect any personal information that can be traced back to the user.
Lexmark has confirmed that its printer software installs a discrete program called Lexmark Connect, which automatically collects and transmits information on the use of its printers.
"We're completely transparent about this initiative," said Pierre-Olivier Pulveric, marketing director for Lexmark in France. "Lexmark Connect is a small application which sends us very general information about your printing habits every 30 days."
The company claimed the program was helping it to develop its products.
"To motivate users, they are able to participate in competitions to win products or special offers from time to time," Pulveric said. "After installing the printer, a Web page allows you to register online and to take part in Lexmark Connect."
To avoid the program being installed, the user has to opt out after following a set of instructions at the same time as registering for their guarantee.
Lexmark says that the program is completely legal because there is no transmission of personal data. The program collects very specific data, such as the installation of the Lexmark product, the number of printed pages, the quantity of ink use, the type of printer and software used and the use of button commands.
Some facts about the system being used are also transmitted, such as the type of processor, the amount of memory, the capacity of the hard drive, and the name, version and linguistic parameters of the operating system.
Lexmark is not alone. Hewlett-Packard has been doing something similar for more than a year on its printers. The only difference is that it asks for the active opt-in consent of its clients, according to a spokesman for the firm.
Fellow printer companies Epson and Cannon said they rely on voluntary surveys to collect their information.