The past couple years has seen a rise in prison profiteers who strike deals with state corrections departments to provide "free" tablets to prisoners (these being the flimsiest, cheapest, least reliable hardware imaginable), and then profiting by charging exorbitant sums for prisoners to send emails (selling "digital postage stamps" that have to be affixed to each "page" of email), videoconference with family members, and provide media, charging prisoners for music that they lose every time a prison changes suppliers.
Jenny Odell is an artist and critic whose Bureau of Suspended Objects report on dropshipping (previously) was a fascinating dive into the weird, scammy world of crapgadgets and farcically poorly made fashion items sold through a network of "influencers" and turnkey ecommerce tool.
Artist Jenny Odell created the Bureau of Suspended Objects to photographically archive and researched the manufacturing origins
of 200 objects found at a San Francisco city dump; last August, she prepared a special report for Oakland's Museum of Capitalism about the bizarre world of shitty "free" watches sold through Instagram influences and heavily promoted through bottom-feeding remnant ad-buys, uncovering a twilight zone of copypasted imagery and promotional materials livened with fake stories about mysterious founders and branded tales.
The unprecedented denial-of-service attacks powered by the Mirai Internet of Things worm have harnessed crappy, no-name CCTVs, PVRs, and routers to launch unstoppable floods of internet noise, but it's not just faceless Chinese businesses that crank out containerloads of vulnerable, defective-by-design gear — it's also name brands like Sony.
I have a soft spot for crapgadgets. During my first stretch living in Silicon Valley, one of my favorite ways to spend a Sunday was to get a friend to drive me to Fry's and just buy a whole whack of stuff from the impulse aisle: stuff that some optimistic entrepreneur had made an unsuccessful bet on, sold off to a jobber, who then split it into lots that were sold on to import/export places that eventually dumped it into Fry's: black-and-white digital cameras without a viewfinder (I called it the "point-and-pray"); stuffed bootleg Windows 2000 logo plushies; digital walkie-talkies that looked like the Incredible Hulk.
Cheap Internet of Things devices like Foscam's home CCTVs are designed to covertly tunnel out of your home network, bypassing your firewall, so they can join a huge P2P network of 7 million other devices that is maintained and surveilled by their Chinese manufacturer.
Funny or Die scoured the Web for ten genuinely awful toys that were discovered in the wild — toys that transcend mere poor quality assurance and enter the realm of non-Euclidean ghastliness that defies all reason.
One year ago today
Icelandic Pirate Party lands three seats in Icelandic parliament: The three new Icelandic lawmakers include Jón Þór Ólafsson, a business administration student at the University of Iceland; Helgi Hrafn Gunnarsson, a computer programmer; and Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a well-known WikiLeaks volunteer and former member of parliament from 2009 to 2013. — Read the rest
Harry McCracken from Time Magazine sez, "Back in the 1980s, TIME magazine sold subscriptions via TV ads–'Hi, I'm Judy, an operator here at TIME'–and sealed the deal by offering free tech gadgets such as phones, clocks and cameras. The commercials live on via YouTube; I've rounded up a bunch of them, complete with the quaint, silly, sometimes cheesy gizmos we gave away." — Read the rest
Ethan Zuckerman grilled the census worker who came to his door about the giant, clunky, dysfunctional PDA the US government uses to conduct its census with. It's a crapgadget par excellence.
— Read the rest
The device she had strapped to her hand was a Harris HTC, which looks either like the ugliest cellphone you've ever seen, or a Palm Pilot designed by the US government.
Special Services Group makes surveillance crapgadgets for cops and spies: cameras and mics hidden in tombstones, vacuum cleaners, children's car-seats, and other everyday items. Muckrock's Beryl Lipton used a Freedom of Information Act request to get a copy of "Black Book," SSG's massive sales brochure out of the Irvine police department, with minimal redactions.
Holly, a Harvard seminarian and activist, invited Twitter users to DM her the dirty secrets of their industries, which she then anonymized and posted in a megathread with more than 600 parts (as of this writing); while many of them are mild or self-evident, many of them are the kind of sphincter-tightening or blood-boiling confessions that you always suspected might be true but hoped like hell were not.
My local cable monopoly is Spectrum, part of Charter, and I refuse to get anything except internet service through them (alas, my city, Burbank, will not sell me access to our amazing, 100GB/s fiber network, which runs directly under my house, because they have a deal with Charter not to connect any non-commercial-zoned properties to our muni fiber).
Draeger's Alcotest 9510 breathalyzer [Amazon] is used widely by cops and has led to millions of drunk-driving arrests. For years its results have been suspect, and now researchers are elaborating upon its flaws: serious bugs in the code cause it to produce inflated blood-alcohol readings. — Read the rest
Vtech is the Taiwanese kids' crapgadget vendor that breached sensitive data on 6.3 million children and their families, lied about it and covered it up, then added a dirty EULA to its products that made us promise not to sue them if they did it again.
♬ Darkness falls across the land ♩
♪ The midnight hour is close at hand.♫
♩Creatures crawl in search of blood ♬
? To terrorize y'all's neighborhood ?
♫ And whosoever shall be found ♬
♬ With the cash for getting down ♩
♬Will enjoy our Halloween Gift Guide… ? — Read the rest
Spiral Toys — a division of Mready, a Romanian electronics company that lost more than 99% of its market-cap in 2015 — makes a line of toys called "Cloudpets," that use an app to allow parents and children to exchange voice-messages with one another. — Read the rest
Internet of Shit (@internetofshit) is at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, the annual festival of stuff not made by Apple. This year's big themes include drones and home automation, but there's an ocean of bizarre, obviously-nightmarish Internet of Things crapgadgetry. — Read the rest
The Mirai worm made its way into information security lore in September, when it was identified as the source of the punishing flood of junk traffic launched against Brian Krebs in retaliation for his investigative reporting about a couple of petty Israeli criminals; subsequent analysis showed Mirai to be amateurish and clumsy, and despite this, it went on to infect devices all over the world, gaining virulence as it hybridized with other Internet of Things worms, endangering entire countries, growing by leaps and bounds, helped along by negligent engineering practices at major companies like Sony.