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What is watermarking and why isn’t it as prevalent as it used to be?

Watermarking has long been used since medieval times, in the form of a thin wire shaped into a design or laters, and then sewn into the mold used to make paper. It was used to identify who the maker of the paper was and still serves the same purpose now, as a form of identification. So how has it changed since then? Find out more in this short read.



Watermarks are often found in stock imagery, or professional photography, and even when viewing text files online, such as on a preview for an article or e-book. Legal documents and contracts may also contain watermarks to indicate the validity of the document and more importantly, protect confidential information.




So why is it not as commonly seen? Especially with the current issues with regards to privacy and data breaches, watermarks could serve as a useful deterrent and tool against them.


Firstly, it may be a result of a lack of awareness, both towards the existence of such a tool, as well as its importance in this day and age. Watermarking is most noticeable in the field of digital right media, to protect creators from digital theft, but not many are aware of its use in the corporate and business world.


As the first layer of security, watermarking deters users from spreading sensitive documents through unconventional means such as screenshots or by taking photos, which could potentially lead to information leaks. Watermarking can be used to trace where documents have been leaked from, which is an important tool for companies that deal with highly sensitive information. As a post measure, these leaks can then be traced back to the perpetrator as well.


The importance of watermarking as a form of security may also be undervalued from the perception of potential users such as corporations, who may feel that there is no need for an additional layer of security. As privacy and personal information become a growing area of concern, the consequences of failing in their security become significantly more dire in recent times. With effect from 1 February 2021, an update to the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) resulted in an increase in the maximum financial penalty for contravening the PDPA up to 10% of an organisation's annual turnover in Singapore, or SGD 1 million, whichever is higher.


As countries and governments begin to pass laws on how private information should be handled. Perhaps it is time for businesses, big and small to start taking pre-emptive steps against information leaks. With the first step of adopting watermarks in their daily use.


Zi Foong Lye Assoc Engineer


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