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Sony’s DRM Nightmare

Elizabeth Technology March 21, 2024

In 2005, an organization had been covertly installing a program similar to a rootkit onto consumer devices without warning. For those who haven’t heard it before, a rootkit is simply a program that is designed to remain unfindable on a device. They aren’t all bad, but their difficult-to-detect nature and ability to evade even aggressive anti-virus makes them a top-of-the-line tool for hackers. Back to the story.

The rootkit was on the lookout for ‘suspicious activity’, and if it detected any, it would quietly alert the parent company. However, even if you had nothing to hide, you still had something to fear: the rootkit left a gaping security hole, and a smart enough hacker could piggyback off of it to get Trojan Horses, Worms, and other nasty bugs in without alerting the computer that “hey, there’s an .exe file doing weird stuff!”

The rootkit was designed to hide itself, and it would hide the bugs behind it. There was no mention of this anywhere in the EULA agreement for the program that had the rootkit.  The parent company hadn’t meant to leave a backdoor, but they did, and attempts to fix it without removing their own program just made the problem worse. Attempting to fake fixing it with an uninstaller only hid the program deeper in the system, and trying to uninstall it could brick the computer, depending on which program you got. They’d really screwed themselves, and they hadn’t expected to get caught.

This wasn’t some Russian hacking scheme, or some government overreach – it was Sony, attempting to keep copyrighted material off of pirating websites. Talk about an overreaction.

The History

At some point, a company has to admit it would rather ruin the legitimate user’s experience than let a pirate go unpunished. That’s very understandable: stealing is wrong, and smug pirates behaving like they’ve gotten one over on ‘the system’ are frustrating. Ordinary responses to this can be anything from asking for the license # on the inside of the clear case to more subtly ruining the audio quality of pirated copies. This is a normal level of copyright protection. Very determined pirates could still get around these measures, but hey, you can’t spend all your resources on the fringe cases.

Companies are aware of this, and some begin to factor ‘unstoppable piracy’ into their calculations – you know, like grocery stores will factor in ‘lifting loss’ and spoiling produce. Companies usually determine they’d be spending more on preventative measures than they’d be keeping on the shelves. Theft is wrong, but so is littering and driving without a license. Somehow, all three still happen anyway. Sony is very mad that pirates are getting away with fresh content, and they want to do the equivalent of TSA pat-downs on everybody at the exit of the grocery store to stop a small percentage of thieves.  They don’t care anymore; nobody is going to get away with it.

Was it Reasonable?

Napster and LimeWire are making inroads into the music industry’s profit, and 2005 was the peak. The pirating of copyrighted content is only made easier with the rise of the internet, and Sony realizes it’s nigh impossible to find the illegitimate downloaders, and uploaders were only marginally easier. They decide to go for the source, but they decide to hit hard.

“The industry will take whatever steps it needs to protect itself and protect its revenue streams… It will not lose that revenue stream, no matter what… Sony is going to take aggressive steps to stop this. We will develop technology that transcends the individual user. We will firewall Napster at source – we will block it at your cable company. We will block it at your phone company. We will block it at your ISP. We will firewall it at your PC… These strategies are being aggressively pursued because there is simply too much at stake.” – Sony Senior VP Steve Heckler

This quote was said in 2005, after Sony had merged with another company, BMG. BMG had an incident in Europe in the 2000’s, when they’d released a CD without warning users of the copyright protection on the inside. Apparently, burning money to replace those CDs (and burning goodwill) was not enough of a lesson, and Sony and BMG together prepared to take a stand against pirates.

The Problem

They’re going after the big boys, the folks downloading music to upload everywhere else…for free.

These are the people depressing profits, in theory. Some companies theorize that once these people are gone, the people passively pirating by downloading stuff from them will also disappear and go back to buying the content. They’re somewhat right, and this audience shrinks over time. More on that later.

This is illegal and very annoying! The estimated lost sales from piracy were in the billions, and many companies were beginning to look at more intense DRM: Digital Restriction Management.

To some people, DRM is the root of all evil, the seed of the eventual downfall of consumer’s rights. After Sony’s screw-up, they were right to call it as such. John Deere, Apple, Sony, Photoshop, etc. are all slowly eating away at their own best features for the sake of pushing users into proprietary software. Software they’re not allowed to repair because of DRM. Take Deere: if a new Deere tractor detects a common tractor repairman’s diagnostic software, a Deere tractor will stop working until you call out a Deere technician. This obviously drives up demand for Deere technicians, and it’s horribly restrictive to the user. Lawsuits are in progress right now over this because the obvious result is that Deere can cost you your farm by doing this.

To others, DRM is an essential part of the free market. Companies should be allowed to protect what they made, and if users find their methods extreme, they shouldn’t have bought it. And in less extreme circumstances, they’re right! That’s what the EULA, the End User License Agreement, is for. The user can decide if they’re willing to put up with the DRM specified in the Agreement, and if they’re not, they don’t have to buy it. ‘If you pirate this, it will only play static’ is reasonable.

Sure, some super-cheapskate who found a sketchy download off some sketchy site is going to listen to static with Hint of Music, but the average user would rather buy the disc and be done with it. If the company can make the ripped upload sound like garbage when it’s off its home CD, they won. The company has successfully used DRM here to keep their honest customer honest, and any would-be pirates away. And they did it without destroying either computer! As Stewart Baker of the Department of Homeland Security said, “it’s your intellectual property – it’s not your computer”.

Doing it this way means normal consumers still get a high-quality product, and if the DRM is limited entirely to the content itself, there’s no risk of it coming back to bite the company in the butt.

Still, if you really disagree with DRM, there were companies that successfully reduced their piracy problems in other ways. Some found that guilt was enough, others found that once certain websites were gone, their piracy problems disappeared too. Warning folks that piracy was still a crime got the people who didn’t know any better to stop. Fines did a number on the folks who were too bold or too dumb to not get tracked with non-DRM means, and for the people who were doing it because it was more convenient? They reduced their pirating when better paid methods became available. Sony’s problem could have been solved in a lot of ways!

Besides, Sony wasn’t struggling. Lost sales are not the same as losses! Companies are still making profit, just not as much as they’d like. Property is not being damaged, and nobody is experiencing physical harm as a result of pirating.

The Response

Sony’s DRM was a severe overreaction to the problem at hand, and it did lead to several lawsuits. As said at the beginning, Sony had not only installed software without the user’s knowledge, but they’d then left a big entry point for security threats to get in undetected. Hundreds of thousands of networks were affected, and some of them were government. Once someone blew the lid on the DRMs, they released a cover-up “uninstaller” that just hid the rootkit better and installed more DRM content on the user device.

This does not help!

The blown cover for the rootkit meant that black-hat hacking organizations could tool around and create something that could get into anything with that rootkit on it, undetected. Eventually Sony was forced to admit this was wrong, but not before screwing over a couple million people who just wanted to listen to Santana or Celine Dion from a CD they paid for. Over pirates.

Yeah, there’s some lost profit – but it doesn’t outweigh the regular customers.

The Aftermath

Sony’s first instinct is to hide it. As mentioned in the article above, the uninstaller available didn’t actually uninstall it, and some users reported issues of system crashes and their machine bricking up when the uninstaller’s poor programming tried to interact with the rest of the device’s programming.

Their second decision is to lie – ‘the DRM has no backdoors and doesn’t pose a risk to your computer’s security’. This is demonstrably untrue, and given that they were already in the beginning stages of recall, could be considered a deliberate lie.

Sony’s third action is to recall the discs with the DRM on it, but they don’t get all of the discs. Some users aren’t sure if their disc is affected or not, and even non-profit organizations dedicated to maintaining free internet can’t figure out what discs have it and what discs don’t. The best they can do is a partial list. Stores in New York and Boston are still selling the discs three weeks after the recall. However, users do get to swap their disc with an unprotected one through the mail. Sony seems to have acknowledged their screw-up at this point.

Sony’s fourth action is more a consequence – they stick a class-action lawsuit sign-up notice on their home website, and users affected can claim damages up until 2006. Class-action lawsuits filed by individual states start to drag down Sony’s profits more than the piracy ever did, and the end result is a mandate to put warnings on the cover of discs and to stop using DRM that could damage a user’s computer. DRM is still allowed, it just can’t be possible to destroy a computer to protect a song license. The feds actually considered this a breach of federal law and stated that it was engaging in deceptive and unfair business practices. Sounds about right – consumers wouldn’t have bought a disc that downloaded DRM without their knowledge. From conception to execution, this was a moral, ethical, and legal mistake. While pirating is wrong, it’s possible to be more wrong trying to stop it.










The Worst Way To Make A Password

Elizabeth Technology March 19, 2024

There are many ways to make good passwords.

How do you make a password that barely protects you at all?

1) Use something really identifying

Using a password like “dadof4” or “kayaking” when you regularly tell people that you have four kids or that you kayak is a good way to let your acquaintances know that you might be easy to Facebook-hack. The same goes for any interest, really! If your password is a political slogan or something to do with something you own and regularly post about – like a classic car, or #vanlife – you’re in for a bad time.

2) Use a Sequence

This goes beyond something like “12345” or “2468”.  Don’t try the Fibonacci sequence, don’t try whatever the DaVinci Code had going on with that codex thing – don’t try pop-math as a password. Most brute-forcing AI is designed to try these numbers first. Trying a single instance of an eight character password in a dictionary attack takes less than a tenth of a millisecond on a reasonably powerful home-desktop computer, of course a cyber-criminal is going to put all the memorable sequences at the front of the queue.

3) Use Pop Culture

In fact, stay away from pop password references in general. Ramses2? Someone who knows you like Watchmen could guess this. EequalsMCSquared? If your buddies know you like Big Bang Theory, the password’s not good enough. There are plenty of nonsensical pop-culture references that make good passwords – so you don’t need to be using the passwords that are super obviously passwords, the passwords the characters use in the show. Just stick to the sayings or catchphrases that are somewhat obscure, and make sure it’s A) long enough and B) mixes in enough special characters to thwart brute-force AI. Don’t let your hint (if the website lets you set one) become a trivia game.

4) Make it too short

Most websites won’t even let you get away with anything less than eight characters, but in case you find a really ancient one that doesn’t have these requirements, a surefire way to get yourself in trouble is to make your password very, very short. I’m linking a better description that goes over the equation in more detail here.

The equation they use assumes it will take 0.0017 milliseconds to compute a hash, or (1.7*10^-6) seconds. Multiply that by the available character libraries: 26 (all lower- or all upper-case only), 52 (upper and lower cases), 62 (upper and lower cases and also numbers), or 80 (all of the above + special characters allowed in the password field). You multiply the character library by the number of characters in the password, and then divide all of that by two. For an eight character password written with upper and lower case libraries, the equation is this: ((1.7*10^-6)*52^8)/2 (seconds).

This is the time it takes to compute one hash multiplied by the number of characters that could be in any one spot, times the number of spots, on a regular computer. Botnets and super computers, which hackers may have access to if they’re well-funded, take a thousandth of that time. When it’s very crucial to keep bad actors out, limiting login attempts and 2FA can help hold back even the most powerful of computers – but most people aren’t going to be targeted by someone with a botnet.

Basically, what you should glean from this is that a ten-character password using all available character libraries (26 upper case plus 26 lower case plus numbers 0-9 plus special characters) takes about three years to crack on a bot-net or a supercomputer and may as well be impossible on a single desktop.

An eight-character password with the same libraries takes approximately 4 years on a desktop, minutes on that botnet/supercomputer. Still powerful, not as powerful as a ten-digit one though. An eight-character password with only lowercase or only uppercase (26 total possible characters) will take two days on a desktop, seconds on the botnet.

A four-character password with all the full character libraries takes 34 seconds on a desktop, using the equation provided.  On the botnet, it’s broken in less than a blink. The number is even worse if you’re sticking to upper or lowercase letters only. If you want a bad password, shorter ones are the best way to make problems for yourself! Vice versa, the longer a password is, the harder it is to crack. Every character adds exponential amounts of time to the botnet’s attempts.

5) Make it a Sequence with numbers

Using “Password – Password1 – Password2…” can turn into a security problem, even though an AI might not be able to guess what you’re doing right off the bat. Using “ILovePuppies2” should, in theory, not be any less secure than “ILovePuppies1” or “ILovePuppies3”. Mathematically, they’re the same number of guessable characters to an AI. However, if your coworkers know that you use a base password with numbers behind it, they could brute force your account with knowledge the AI doesn’t have, and get in.

6) Use special characters in places you won’t remember them.

Doing the bare minimum eight to ten characters with an @ or a & sign thrown in there makes you more secure. However, it also makes the password more difficult to remember. If you were online in the 2000s, you might remember LeetSpeek, wh353 3W3 T&P3 L1%3 7H12. It was awful. Entire paragraphs were unreadable because the writers didn’t have solid rules for letter replacement, and would mix in homophones for words just to up the difficulty even more.

If you don’t remember your own rules for replacement (is 2 an S, or a Z? Do you always use % for K, or can it sometimes also be X? etc.) when writing a LeetSpeek password, you’re just making an easy-to-forget password with more steps. The same goes for using special characters in general – if you know you’re not going to remember replacing A with @ or 4, you’re going to give yourself a lot of trouble by trying to force these special characters in when you could use others, like punctuation characters, in easier-to-remember spots.

LeetSpeek makes great passwords – if you’re used to it, and if you know that your word or phrase will always come out with the same replacements. If SPEAKFRIEND is always 5P34KFR!3ND and never SP34%5R13|\|D, you’ve got a good code going on. Otherwise, you may as well be keysmashing.

7) Keysmashing

Don’t do this unless you have a password manager. You’re not going to remember the keys you hit. Your browser might, but then what do you do when you’re not on your native browser? You’re stuck resetting the password. Don’t keysmash. Just…don’t. It’s a bad way to make passwords. If you’re truly obsessed with randomness in your password, a solid password manager is a great way to make sure you a) always have your password with you and b) always pick a password with peak randomness. After all, keysmashing usually makes all the characters lowercase and keeps special characters out – it’s not actually fully randomized.

8) Make it something you won’t remember at all

Having to regularly reset your password is definitely annoying – and it can lead to security gaps when users get fed up with having to hit the reset password link, go to their email, hit that link, go back to the website, pick a new password, type it in twice, wait for the two-factor authentication message to come in, yada yada. CIS recommends no more than once a year because this is so common. The frustration of having to do this song and dance every couple of weeks can lead users to write their password down – which is significantly worse than just leaving the old, strong password that they remember as it is. Regularly resetting passwords won’t improve the security of the system if the user got it right the first time, and there’s solid 2FA in place – even the FTC agrees!

9) Use a master password for everything

It’s good to have a strong password. It is not good to use that same strong password everywhere! Let’s say you subscribe to an online game website. The game website is free, and the account is purely for age verification, so there’s no payment details. Only your email and password. (This applies to online forums, too!) They don’t invest in top-notch security because there’s no real reason to, no payment details, no SSNs stored somewhere, so a hack wouldn’t destroy their users – it would just be annoying to lose save progress for games. Unless…

Unless those users use a master password that’s tied to their email for every account they have. And if a hack were to get both off some little website that doesn’t even store payment data, like they frequently do, suddenly a hacker has access to everywhere you’ve used that master password. They’ll try everywhere. Every bank, every shipping company, every streaming service. That’s why the gaming website is even a target in the first place. It’s tempting – don’t do it.

10) Don’t use Two-Factor

If you really want an unpleasant online experience, don’t use two-factor anywhere. That way, even good passwords can act like bad passwords! Consider bullet number 4 here to imagine the power of a very determined hacker. Ultimately, if something’s really, really determined – it will spend all the resources it can to get in. Using two-factor can only help you! An eight-character password with no attempt limit is not nearly as much protection as it used to be, so Two-factor is essential unless you’re looking to have a bad time.

Sources: https://thycotic.force.com/support/s/article/Calculating-Password-Complexity


Don’t Delete Your System32

Elizabeth Technology March 14, 2024

System 32 is essentially the heart of the computer’s software. Task manager, the boot-up instructions, and hardware-to-software system files are all located in the System 32 file folder. It’s very important. Do not delete it.

This folder is not a secret, but what exactly it’s responsible for wasn’t always public knowledge. After all, Windows keeps everything very neat and tidy; photos and documents to games and applications all stayed in their own little cubby holes. The actual System 32 folder is a couple of folders deep already– exploratory digging might result in someone finding it by themselves, but why would they ever delete it if it’s already there? That was Microsoft’s approach: make everything the user wants easy to find so only experts and programmers have to consider System 32. Even better, it would still (usually) work in the recycle bin, and it wouldn’t allow deletion with a simple left-click; there was no way a user could delete this folder without serious work. The hope was that most people would never even notice it.

They were right, and this was enough. For a time.

The Beginning

It’s the mid to late 2000s, and anonymous internet message boards are largely unrecognized and somewhat unmoderated. It serves as the Wild West of the internet, the last dark corner in a time where the rest of said internet is at least glimpsable with Google. Computers are expensive, but not Hope Diamond expensive, and the thought that someone would tell an un-monitored kid online to break theirs just for the heck of it was kind of absurd. Keyword: un-monitored. Underage children were getting into all sorts of sites they shouldn’t have, including internet messaging boards.

Knowing this, the people falling for the system32 prank are obviously not all just gullible adults.

Interim Growth

The site responsible for the meme (at the time) made it very clear that this was not a place for children, and the nature of the site’s set-up made it nigh impossible for the average user to be tracked or traced by another user. No username? No IP tracking? Zero consequences. There were mods, but the mods were few in number, and more concerned with activities that were genuinely very illegal and could lead to the site’s shut-down. Users convincing strangers to mix chemicals together or de-magnetize their hard drive was less pressing unless it also resulted in something illegal.

The meme really got going when one user came back to complain that their computer would no longer start after they followed one of the first troll posts. That post gave instructions on how to delete it while framing it as ‘bloatware’(software that intentionally slows a device down). If you have no idea what makes a computer run, it sounded like good advice.

When users caught on that some versions of Windows would refuse to outright delete System 32, they moved on and started including console commands, something the average user (at the time) had no experience with. Someone with little or no knowledge of the subject wouldn’t know what they were looking at. A button press, some typing, and an @echo command. Easy to follow… too easy.

Mainstream Dilution

Instructions for deleting System 32 to ‘speed up the computer’ or ‘make the computer quieter’ appeared on more public sites some time in 2008. I Can Haz Cheezburger is likely the largest at this point, a forum centered around funny images of cats and other assorted animals, with a penchant for memes including advice, good or bad. Soap Ice, the idea that you could freeze Dawn dish soap and water in a puck of ice, and then use it to ‘shower’ after a trip to the gym or park, was one of these ‘advice’ memes. This does not work for the reasons you’d expect, but it’s less likely to kill someone than bathroom cleaner ‘crystal’ hacks. ‘Advice’ to delete System 32 was a natural fit, and it spread like wildfire.

With the meme’s spread into bigger websites that are more strictly moderated, articles start coming out advising people not to delete System 32. Even better, memes start circulating on websites like I Can Haz Cheezburger to give users warning directly. It doesn’t stop all of it – no good-advice-meme can stop a person determined to use a hack like Soap Ice, but it puts a major dent in the spread. With less people taking the bait, and others ready to comment ‘don’t do this!’ on posts where it appears, the meme finally slows down, eventually to a crawl. “Delete System 32” is now used ironically, because knowledge of it is so widespread that someone not knowing is rare.

And so the rise and fall of a meme is recorded. This is one of the first of it’s kind, but it’s far from the last.

Remember the Apple Wheels?

Elizabeth Technology March 12, 2024

Ah, Complaining.

Apple Wheels

The Apple Mac Pro cost several thousand dollars, and it looked like a cheese grater. The little Apple-branded wheels to make it move cost about 700$, or approximately the price of the iPhone 8 at launch. Oh, but don’t worry – you can buy the feet for a mere 300$, if you just have to have Apple Brand. How did we get here? How did we, as a society, get to 700$ computer wheels?

Brand = Trustworthy

Branding by itself is an interesting mark of human psychology. It’s a shortcut to trusting something! The brand of an item itself purely imaginary – the brand, by itself, does not produce value for the final product except for the value the consumer gives it in their mind. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Look at IKEA: all those items come from different factories, so customers shouldn’t just blindly trust whatever they buy, right? But because IKEA has put their name behind it, consumers still buy the cheap shelves with the understanding that IKEA has endorsed them. If these shelves were somewhere else, and un-branded, consumers wouldn’t trust them as much. They’d sell less. You see copycat items on Amazon all the time, but mostly people buy brand-names they recognize. Branding, in this way, is extremely valuable even though it’s intangible.

And it’s good for the customer, too! It allows them to make a more informed decision. Emotionally, people become loyal to brands that have served them well. Fortunately for the brand, they’ll stay loyal unless something seriously impacts their mental image of that brand.

All of this sounds totally logical and reasonable, right? It’s the way people have done business since cash was invented. It made sense for people to trust the smithy, who branded their creations, over someone who wouldn’t put their name to what they made.

Strange things start happening when people like the brand more than the products, and we’ll get there.

Even though consumers may know the store-brand comes from the same plant that the name-brand does, they may still pick name-brand. This is part of that trust – it is scary to try new things, and keeping one constant, the brand, the same, makes buying big electronics or new foods less scary. When consumers stop showing a brand loyalty, or they start complaining, the brand could do things like throw in warranties, coupons, or spare parts for free and retain that good will. Store brand doesn’t stand a chance even if it’s literally identical.

Brand = Money

Branding can save a company even if they’re like modern day Pyrex, which has a different heat tolerance depending which factory you get it from. People post infographics online so consumers can identify the ‘good’ pieces, because they love Pyrex so much. A change to the glass manufacturing process means that the brand is no longer a reliable indicator of quality, but people still want to like Pyrex. Otherwise they wouldn’t go through all this effort to find the right Pyrex factory, they’d buy somewhere else. This is where brand starts to become more important than what it’s selling: the nostalgia of a good brand present in one’s formative years carries it along past it’s loss of quality.

People will pay a premium for a brand they trust, and companies know this. We see this everywhere, from cars to computers. Sears might have survived a couple years off of goodwill and nostalgia alone.

Branding, therefore, can become a phylactery in the hands of a new controlling board. As soon as a company starts to rely on goodwill to sell items that they know other companies would have ditched, they become like Apple. Unlike Apple, many of them don’t sell high-ticket items as a luxury.

For Apple, the brand is demand. Where Steve Jobs might have demanded innovation out of every item they released, the controlling board doesn’t. They know that the brand reputation he built will sell items because people love Apple, people already have Apple, and they know people want to look like they have money! And by smearing Android products as ‘cheap’, Apple became a shortcut for ‘expensive’. Apple wheels are a natural result of a market that’s so hyperfocused on branding that it doesn’t care about functionality. A combination of goodwill and a little psychology gives us these overpriced items that are only overpriced for the sake of it.

The irony of all of this is that people will eventually buy the item as a ‘flex’, unironically, and then the product exists in a quantum state of sincerity. How does Apple live where others die?

Wheely Worth It

Apple sells sincere items alongside their ‘meme’ items. While Apple sells things like wheels and pens for hundreds of dollars, the past generations of phones are still about the right price for what the user gets. Factoring in things like R + D, factory overhead, and the materials to go into it, a comparable phone (including camera and storage space) made by a third party would be cheaper, but not by much. They’re only at a small premium to other comparable brands for the same computing power, which makes sense with Apple’s well-known tech support. They haven’t gone full ‘Sears’ yet: there’s still some value in the idea of their brand, and they still release ‘worthy’ items alongside the garbage ones. Why risk it with wheels that cost as much as an iPhone, a genuinely expensive item?

Simple: it’s for advertising, and it’s fairly cheap as far as campaigns go. Either ‘hype beasts’ (people known for buying branded clothing just because it’s expensive) buy it to flex on others, or regular people discuss how out-of-line Apple is. Either way, Apple’s name is out there. Apple might not actually expect to make money with these wheels, but the items are so cheap to make that a single purchase could finance the production of 50 more sets. Not to forget hype beasts!

This new trend of “flexing” expensive-but-nearly-worthless items has led to the creation of the Supreme Brick, the Apple wheels, and all sorts of other tomfoolery that relies on branding. Now, some brands use branding as a shortcut to ‘luxury’ instead of ‘trust’. Luxury clothing items have already been doing this for years, so while the material is thin, the manufacturing process cost cents on the dime, and shipping it en masse cost maybe a couple dollars, the final item is an 800$ shirt. Not because it’s made of especially good materials, or hardy – because it has a logo on it.

The only reason knockoffs are not worth as much is because the original brand has convinced people that their product is ‘better’ because it cost more, not that it cost more because it was better. And people believe it! Anyone self-conscious enough to get fake Airpods or a third-party Gucci shirt are still pursuing that image of luxury, which is fantastic for the brand. The same goes for Apple Wheels, and Airpods, and Supreme clothing… if the consumer values it, then they’re worth it. The Apple Wheels are worth 699$ to the people who want it, and that’s good enough to keep making them.  They’re buying Apple Brand, after all.

Apple Wheel. It’s wheely about the advertising.





Memory Terms

Elizabeth Technology March 7, 2024

The first Bit of Data

A bit is a single character in binary, and actually comes from shortening “Binary Digit”. A bit is the simplest possible data that the machine can read, and is either a 1, or a 0. A yes, or a no. True or false. The bit has been around for longer than computers, originating in punch cards in the 1700s for analog machines to “read”.


If you’ve recently upgraded to Windows 10, you may recall having to check if your computer is 32 bit or 64 bit. The numbers determine how much memory the computer’s processor can access by its architecture – is it equipped to read up to 32 consecutive bits of data as an address, or 64? A 32 bit computer has fewer possible memory addresses from its CPU register– not much more than 4 GB’s worth, or 2^32’s address’s worth – while a 64 bit computer can store to up to two TB, or 2^64 addresses. This doesn’t mean 32 bit computers can only store 4 GB of data, it just means it can store 4 GB worth of names. The files themselves can be nearly any size as long as there’s storage available for them.

Then, a Byte

A byte is usually eight bits in compliance with international standard – but it didn’t always have to be. Instead, it used to be as long as needed to show a character on screen, usually somewhere between two and ten bits, with exceptions down to one and up to forty-eight bits for certain characters. Eight-bit bytes became the standard by their convenience for the new generation of microprocessors in the 70s: within 8 bits in binary, there are 255 possible organizations of ones and zeroes. 16 bits would give too many possibilities and could slow the computer down, while 4 bits would mean combining phrases of bits anyway to get more than 32 or so characters.


8 sounds like the perfect combination of length and possible complexity, at least with the benefit of hindsight. The government had struggled with incompatible systems across branches due to byte size before 8-bit came along. ASCII was the compromise, at seven bits per byte, and when commercial microprocessors came along in the 1970s, they were forced to compromise again with ASCII Extended, so that commercial and government systems could communicate.

However, not all ASCII extended versions contained the same additions, so Unicode was then formed later to try and bridge all the gaps between versions. Unicode, a character reading program that includes the ASCII set of characters within it, uses eight-bit bytes, and it’s one of the most common character encoding libraries out there. You’ll run into ASCII a lot, too – if you’ve ever opened an article and seen little boxes where characters should be, that’s because it was viewed with ASCII but written with a bigger library. ASCII doesn’t know what goes there, so it puts a blank!


1000 bytes of storage forms a Kilobyte, or a Kb. This is the smallest unit of measure that the average computer user is likely to see written as a unit on their device – not much can be done with less than 1000 bytes. The smallest document I can currently find on my device is an Excel file with two sheets and no equations put into it. That takes up 9 KB. A downloadable “pen” for an art program on my device takes up 2 KB.

Computers before Windows had about 640 KB to work with, not including memory dedicated to essential operations.

The original Donkey Kong machines had approximately 20 kilobytes of content for the entire game.


A megabyte is 1 million bytes, or 1,000 kilobytes. Computers had made some progress post-relays, moving to hard disks for internal memory. IBM’s first computer containing a megabyte (or two) of storage, the System 355, was huge. It was also one of the first models to use disk drives, which read faster than tapes. In 1970, if users didn’t want a fridge, they could invest in the now desk-sized 3 million bytes on IBM’s model 165 computers, an improvement over GE’s 2.3 million bytes the year before – and the year before that, Univac had unveiled a new machine with separate cores tied together to give users between 14 and 58 megabytes of capacity in Byte Magazine, at the cost of space. IBM’s System 360 could reach up to 233 megabytes with auxiliary storage, but its size was…prohibitive, reminiscent of that first System 355.

Tapes and drums were competitive with the disk format for a while, but ultimately disk and solid state improved faster and won out (right now it’s looking more and more like SSDs, those solid state drives, will outcompete disks in the future too). During the 80s, the technology improved so much that hard disks became standard (IBM released a home computer with 10 MBs of storage in 1983) and floppy disks acted as media transport.

DOOM comes out in the 1990s and takes up 2.39 MB for it’s downloadable file, with smaller, DLC-like packs of fan-created mods coming out along the way.


A Gigabyte is 1 billion bytes, or 1,000 megabytes. In 1980, IBM releases another fridge – but it stores up to a gigabyte of information! According to Miriam-Webster Dictionary, you can pronounce Gigabyte as “Jig-ga-bite”, which just… feels wrong. In 1974, IBM releases a 20 foot long beast of a storage system that stores up to 236 GB of data on magnetic tape.

In 2000, the first USB sticks (memory sticks, jump drives, etc…) are released to the public with 8 megabyte capacities, and they’re so convenient that floppy disk ports begin disappearing from computer designs in favor of USB ports. USB sticks then improve exponentially, and soon have capacities of one, two, and four Gigabytes while floppies struggle to keep up.

Besides being smaller and harder to break, those USB sticks also store more. Where the first USB sticks held 8 MB, the standard size floppy disk at the time could only hold 1.44 MB of memory. Knowing how small DOOM is, it would take two floppy disks to download all of DOOM, but a USB only took one. By 2009, USB sticks with capacities of 256 GB were available on the market. That’s 178 floppy drives.


A terabyte is 1 trillion bytes, or 1,000 gigabytes. The first commercial drive with a capacity of one terabyte was first sold in 2007 by Hitachi, a Japanese construction and electronics company. The movie Interstellar, released in 2015, featured a depiction of a black hole known as Gargantua – and became famous when it closely resembled a picture of an actual black hole taken by NASA. A ring of light surrounds the black hole in two directions, one due to friction-heated material Gargantua has accumulated, one due to the lensing of light around it. The gravity is so intense that light itself is pulled into orbit around Gargantua’s hypothetical horizon and kept there. It took 800 terabytes to fully render the movie and make Gargantua somewhat accurate in terms of light-lensing.


A petabyte is 1 quadrillion bytes, or 1,000 terabytes. This is typically cluster storage, and while it’s available for purchase, it’s very expensive for the average consumer. For comparison, while rendering Interstellar took 800 terabytes, storing it at standard quality takes 1/200th of a terabyte. You could store approximately 2000 DVD quality copies of Interstellar on a petabyte. It took a little less than 5 petabytes to take a picture of the real black hole, M87.











AI Advertising and Glasgow Wonka

Elizabeth Technology March 5, 2024

It’s official – even small events are using AI for their ads, to mixed results. The Glasgow Wonka event is already going down in history as a Fyre Fest or Dashcon type event, and just like its predecessors, its deceptive marketing drew in crowds it wasn’t prepared to serve.

The difference this time is that it used AI-generated pics to make up what the warehouse might look like when parents arrived (alongside an AI-generated script for the character actors). Odds are that the person in charge had no illusions that they’d be able to match the pictures they used.


Up to this point, a lot of image-generating AI has been used to make pictures for the purpose of having the picture. Memes, photos of hypothetical cosplays and theoretical movie costuming ideas, content one wishes they had the skill to make, cartoon characters drawn in a different style, et cetera. Some people used it for ads, of course, but because all of the big programs are unable to spellcheck the words in the pictures they generate, the person trying to make the ad still needed some editing and fontsetting knowledge to make something truly professional-looking. As such, it wasn’t really good for entire ads, although it was plenty to generate filler images for slideshows or cute critters alongside human-written text for the petting zoo at the fair.

Now, the image generators are getting good enough to produce work that’s passable at a glance, if sometimes confusing and still riddled with spelling errors. The Glasgow Wonka event used a number of AI-generated illustration-style pictures to evoke the magic of Wonka, alongside a handful of pictures of what the inside of the warehouse was supposed to look like. One particular image, an upwards shot of a walkway surrounded by fake grass and a lollipop forest, looks realistic enough (as in, “a company could set this up with plastic props and people would be able to walk through it without destroying it”) that if I didn’t know the image was fake, and I was simply scrolling, I’d be convinced it was real. The total lack of watermarking makes it too easy to believe the pictures of the event were taken at the event.

Who’s Fault Is It?

The Glasgow event was lame inside. The actors were given a borderline incomprehensible script that added in a villain living inside the walls of the chocolate factory, possibly one a bit too scary for children, and at least one of those actors reports that they haven’t been paid yet. There was a single bouncy castle, a couple of decorative tapestries using the same pictures as the generated advertising, and the event was incredibly stingy with refreshments. I can guarantee that – for the price – the attendees weren’t suspicious or otherwise thought it would be quite so lame. Who would have the audacity to charge that much and use fake pictures? The pictures were realistic, for a warehouse event, after all. That’s the problem – this tool is too powerful, and it’s already being used to lie. The image generators are capable of spitting out photorealism now. Some online critics are blaming the parents who attended for not picking up on the use of the AI images before bringing their kids, but I don’t think it’s actually their fault! A fake picture of an event is still a fake picture of an event. The quality of the advertising pictures was borderline stock-image, not the mutated buildings and multi-pronged hand pictures of AI generation past.

Who would question the pictures of what the inside of the warehouse was supposed to look like? The cartoon illustrations of the attractions being filled with nonsensical spelling errors is one thing, the photorealistic shots of “the inside” are a totally different matter, and if anything, they shore up the rest of the advertising. That is meant to be proof that the attractions inside actually exist. The completely believable photos turn this from a case of Dashcon-style overadvertising to genuine deception. Do you wonder if a restaurant’s website cover picture will look the same when you arrive at the physical location? Or if the inside of a hotel room will look like what was advertised on your travel app? Probably not! The average consumer will likely take that at face value, because the average consumer is not used to being shown such blatant lies!

So who’s fault is it? The person who misled them, or the people being misled? We are past the point where AI looks obviously fake and bad. It can’t spell hardly anything right, but it does such a good job of producing picture-perfect fakes that the average person won’t be able to rely on their own instincts to spot them anymore. Instead, a bigger focus needs to be put on making simulated images detectable to the average person – if the warehouse photos had been marked with some sort of watermark that they were made in a picture generator, it might have tipped some of the attendees off that this was fishy.

The World’s Most Specific Shirt

Elizabeth Technology February 29, 2024

You’ve probably seen some variation of the shirt.

You’re wondering how it’s so wildly specific. You click it, and scroll down, and somehow… somehow the company seems to have made shirts specifically for you, the boyfriend of a Registered Nurse who was born in June, who’s a little crazy with a heart of gold.

And then you notice on other channels, people are getting shirts that say ‘Never mess with a Union Welder born in November with Blue Eyes’. ‘My Boyfriend is a Crazy Libra who loves Fishing and Mountain Biking”. Okay… it’s specific… but no harm, right?

What’s happening?

The Ads

First, some context. Facebook takes information like birth date, gender, likes and dislikes, etc. to hyper-tailor ads directly to specific individuals. On the advertiser’s side, Facebook allows their advertising customers to modify ads depending on group – companies can make multiple ads for their product to better build a brand image for any one customer’s specific demographic profile.

Picture that a company makes hair gel for adolescents as well as young adults, for example. The adult is looking to impress their coworkers, but the kid just wants to prevent helmet hair. The gel does both, but the ad will change the target customer’s view of the product – is it for skateboarders, or is it for professionals? Only a super generic ad could appeal to both, and generic ads do much worse than targeted ones. Luckily, Facebook’s fine-tuned ad program can determine which set of ads the viewer should be seeing, and the company can make two ads, one for skateboarders, and one for young professionals.

However, that’s time consuming, so many ad vendors allow mix-n-match campaigns, where lines are taken from one ad and put in another. An adolescent’s ad would work for most teens if the wording was a little different – see Axe’s body spray ads. Sometimes the company doesn’t even have to make the new lines themselves, they just include a modifiable blank field in the ad space and they’re good to go.

That’s where things go sideways! A blank line in an insurance ad can tell the user that they’ll be eligible for a rate as low as X$ based on their age and gender. A blank line in a kennel ad knows they’re looking for a medium dog over a small cat based on their search history. A blank line in a T-shirt ad tells them that Facebook knows they’re a Gemini, an accountant, of Swedish descent, a regular fisher, an occasional beer-drinker, and more.

Art and More

Even worse, bots that work on similar mechanisms have been caught scraping art from artists and slapping it on cheap T-shirts. Since copyright enforcement is dependent on the copyright owner filing for takedown, shirts with that artwork might get sold before the artist even knows something’s amiss. The shirts are frequently poor-quality rips directly from the artist’s social media account, triggered by comments requesting wearable merch or complimenting the work – the bot determines demand and then harvests it, without human intervention, just like the ad T-shirts.

Sure, the artist can request a takedown each and every time the bots snag their art, but it’s a slog, and the company itself never seems to actually do anything meaningful about the violations. It’s also bad for the artist’s reputation: fans complaining to them about the quality of a shirt they bought may be the first time the artist hears about the art theft, and then explaining to someone that they’ve been scammed is only going to make them angrier. It becomes “How could you let this happen” instead of “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize” – everyone loses except for the ad bot’s shirt company.

The ‘Why’

Before companies like ZapTee and CustomInk, getting a custom shirt meant going to a print shop and paying a hefty price for the final product. As such, shirt companies just didn’t make shirts like these ad bots do. It was unfeasible. If it didn’t sell, it was a waste of production. The closest you could get was “I’m a Proud Mom!” or “Rather be Fishin’”. If you were an artist, and your work was too fringe for major manufacturers to work with, you might have had to buy the screen-printing supplies yourself, build your own website or storefront, source blank shirts, and do things the hard way.

Now, all of that is easily outsourced to these printing companies that specialize in customizable products. The tech has improved so much that they can make money on single shirt sales, where before orders had to be in bulk. It’s honestly incredible. However, customers don’t necessarily understand the mechanisms behind these shirts. The specifics on the shirt are just blank space fill-ins, based on information Facebook gives to the ad. They think they’re seeing a unicorn out in the wild when they see something that relates to them. They’re thinking back to the times where companies couldn’t do this, where everything was geared towards two or three consumer profiles. “Wow, a shirt for Peruvians!” instead of “Oh, Facebook knows I’m Peruvian”.

Or in the case of the art-rippers, they see merch from an artist they really like and respect, and buy it without wondering if it’s official because – once again – they’re thinking back to a time when companies didn’t steal art (not officially, anyway) for shirts. Independent artists had to beg, barter, and network their way onto the front of a T-shirt, there wasn’t any other way to sell art-shirts en masse before silk-screen tech got cheap. Therefore, there’s no way unofficial or stolen art merch exists, it just doesn’t happen!

The Marketing

A company named Signal decided to take out ads mocking Facebook’s hyper-specific targeting by simply filling in a MadLib with demographic spots.

The result is, shockingly, just like the T-shirts! Facebook already knows you pretty well. A trend of ‘hyper-targeting’ took over once social media websites realized that people guard their info from companies but share it willingly with friends, publicly. As a result, it can pinpoint things like your favorite movie, your favorite color, what items you’ve bought online (and post about), your perfect vacation, and how dark you like your coffee, to name a few, all harvested from comments and posts you share with your friends. Ads then generate shirts out of what the site gathers. You can turn off targeted advertising in Google, but that doesn’t mean they’re not gathering information. It just means you’re not seeing the direct results of that. The only way to fight the hyper-targeting is to be vague and lie to the platforms, or stay off of them altogether.

If you or an artist you know gets their work ripped by bots, combatting it is unfortunately pretty difficult. The best you can do is sometimes just cave and make your own branded products via something like RedBubble or FanJoy. Give customers an official way to support their favorite artist, and most of the time, they’ll take it! Making your social media work obnoxiously and obviously watermarked helps, as does making the preview pic low-quality. Fans need to know that you have official channels, and if they buy from anywhere else, they’re not supporting you. If they like it so much that they want to wear it, they should want the artist to keep making more of it! Make that link between your official purchasing channels and their support of your work clear.





What is an RFID Chip?

Elizabeth Technology February 27, 2024


RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification, and it’s usually used in the context of a chip! There are active and passive types: an active RFID chip has a tiny battery with it, while a passive one is powered by the energy of the reader’s signals alone. Active chips can be read from much greater distances, but the battery makes them heavier and more expensive. Meanwhile passive chips have to be blasted with the RFID signal to be read.

How do they work?

RFID chips are great because they’re small, and they don’t take line-of-sight to read like many other cataloguing techs do.

There are three major parts to an RFID chip: the microchip, an antenna for receiving and broadcasting signals, and substrate to hold it together. RFIDs work with radio waves, a form of electromagnetic radiation. They actually got their start during the end of WWII, where a Soviet engineer created a passive listening device activated by radio waves, which would then store a small amount of information about the transmission. It wasn’t really the same as what we use in security tags and inventory systems today, but it was a tiny passive chip with information stored on it passively, and that’s close enough! 1973 saw a real attempt at the kind we have today, and ever since, they’ve been shrinking in size.

RFID chips can also come with read-only or read/write memory, depending on the style of that chip. Essentially, it has a very small amount of memory on it, just enough to store things like batch number, serial number, or address, in the case of pet tags. They’re not very complex: in the case of an active tag, the reader simply dings the RFID chip, which then responds on a compatible wavelength with the relevant information via that antenna.

Some chips broadcast constantly, while others broadcast on a regular interval, and some wait for the RFID reader to ding them before they send their data. In a passive chip, the RFID reader has to ding the chip so hard that it absorbs enough EM radiation to respond – energy hits the antenna, travels to the chip, and powers it enough to activate the antenna for signalling, which then causes the chip’s signal to travel back up the antenna and transmit to the reader. Neat!


An RFID chip’s low profile and small size makes them great for inventory management. Since the chip doesn’t need line-of-sight like barcode scanners do, production doesn’t have to worry about maintaining a certain orientation towards cameras for their items, they can just pass them over an RFID scanner and they’re good to go. Radio waves can pass through solid objects!

The RFID chips are also good at tracking inventory while in the store: you’ll notice many big box stores have an exit with detectors alongside the doors, which prevents unscanned or active chips from getting out the door. It also sometimes triggers on nametags and items the cashier had to scan in the cart, but most of the time it works as intended.

RFID chips are great for livestock and pet chipping – they’re small, and not only are they less painful than a tattoo, the data is also unlikely to migrate or blur like ink could in a pet’s ear. The initial wound is also smaller, which makes infection less likely. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect, but they carry a lot more information for less relative risk to the animal.

On the human side, RFID chips are frequently used in employee identification badges – the theory is that it’s harder to copy and easier to read than a barcode scanner for restricted areas. Some people go so far as to get them implanted, but the ethics of that are… iffy, to say the least, even if they want the implant. The long-term effects in humans just aren’t that well-known, and while pets are a good indicator that nothing should go wrong, pets also don’t have to worry about getting their phone hacked because their pet tag carried a virus along.

RFID chips are now popular in credit cards! The chip in the card is (in theory) safer than the regular magnetic stripe, and it’s supposed to be much harder to copy. Of course, early versions still had their issues, but now they’re difficult to signal from a distance.


RFID chips aren’t free from flaws.

Security can be a problem, especially for active chips, which can be read from hundreds of meters away. Most vendors have some sort of protocol in place, but for a hot minute, RFIDs in cards were a potential security nightmare. Remember all those anti-RFID chip wallets? That’s because readers were able to access the chip as though they were being used for a purchase. It just wasn’t very safe before protocols were established.

Secondarily, a bunch of folks went out of their way to prove that the more complex RFIDs could become transmission sites for computer viruses – one guy had one implanted in his hand, and if the virus could infect that hand, then the virus could get anywhere he could wirelessly. The perfect crime! Airgapped networks were no longer safe if RFIDs were on the table.

Incompatible readers can make inventory transfers more painful than they need to be, as well – the ISO sets standards for which channels get to be used for what purposes, but the companies have to comply with them first. They also have to have the right kind of reader – is it scanning for active or passive chips? The two have very different needs. An active reader might not be able to find a passive chip!

There’s also the sticky issue of privacy and destruction. How do you get rid of the tag on the product once it’s no longer needed for inventory? RFIDs can be destroyed by microwaves, but that doesn’t help if they’re attached to an electronic, which can also be destroyed by microwaves. They can be wrapped in foil a couple of times, and stop transmitting long distances – on some objects, that makes them unusable. It takes special equipment and some professional skill to actually scan a building for RFIDs, but it’s not totally impossible.

It just takes work, the kind of work a stalker or government agent might be willing to put in if they needed info on a person so badly that they’d want to see what items they had in their house. This is also more difficult than it sounds because most chips go by something vaguely specific, like a batch or serial number with no product name attached, but it’s not impossible. It would just take quite a lot of effort when stalking via binoculars is much easier.

It’s also still possible to clone RFIDs – passports with RFIDs in them could be an especially large problem for both the original holder and the government of that country. The obvious option, credit cards, are still cloneable too, although with modern banking it’s often not worth the investment for the scammers.

However. With tech improving every day, it may be possible to limit what chips respond to which scanners, which would make it much more difficult to invade privacy. Chips get smaller and smaller every day, so it’s entirely possible a password- or signal- protected RFID may some day come into power.







Reasons to Recycle Your Phone

Elizabeth Technology February 22, 2024

1.Lithium batteries are not biodegradable.

In general, modern materials don’t really degrade much. When was the last time something you owned rusted away completely? And if it did – did it really? The spot below the cheap, neglected grill in my friend’s back yard has no grass growing on it. The rust is still there to interfere with that grass’s growth, even though it’s technically degraded. That grass may eventually come back if the rain ever washes enough of the contaminated dirt away, but until then, the ground is inhospitable. Now picture that with metal that’s not designed to spoil, and chemicals that are much harsher. Batteries are by far one of the most concerning items to trash. They tend to corrode and release acid if not disposed of properly, and the bigger the battery, the bigger the concern for acid to leach into whatever it’s laying on top of. You don’t want something you threw away to make a mini-superfund site, surely?

2. They also don’t behave well when the internals are exposed to air.

You cannot just dump a phone in the trash when you’re buying a new one. Besides the environmental effects (which can be anywhere from acid leaching to heavy metal poisoning, depending on battery type) there’s also a real danger of starting an unquenchable fire in a garbage truck. If it’s one of the fancy ones that can compact garbage as it picks it up, the battery being punctured can set off a fire inside the bin. If you’re unlucky, and others have thrown out paper trash or flammables, you’ve got a serious problem on your hands. Recycle the phone! If not the phone, then at least the battery!

3. The phone contains rare earth metals.

These are metals that are common in the Earth’s crust, but very difficult to actually mine out and purify economically. After a point, mining them might make phones too expensive for the average consumer – so it’s important to harvest what parts are harvestable! Besides that, the phone itself isn’t going to bio-degrade because it’s completely inorganic. Rather than let all those precious minerals and non-degrading materials go to waste, recycle!

4. The hard drive may not be wiped the way you hope it is.

It’s very possible to recover deleted documents off of a hard drive months after ‘wiping’. Wiping a traditional hard drive completely is difficult, and solid states only make it harder. The hard drive still has a phantom copy of the old doc until it’s written over with something else, or grazed with a magnet. Doing this thoroughly is difficult, which is why you should recycle through a reputable hardware recycler. This is especially important for things like email apps, which frequently don’t ask users to log in after the first time they’re used on the phone!

5. Having a secondary market is essential for the health of the industry.

If the number of workable phones is low, people are forced to buy the new model because it’s all they can find. This is why planned obsolescence is so insidious. They’re deliberately cutting down the market for their users so they can sell more new phones at a high price. If this was a perfectly efficient world where consumers had perfect information, this would lead to the company dying, because nobody wants to pay 700$ for something that breaks in three years. But it’s not – it’s a world where people drop an extra $200 on a phone for its camera. It’s a world where the phone carrier forces you to upgrade as part of their contract. It’s a world where branding is the fashion. It is not perfectly efficient, and as long as the manufacturers recognize this, they will make attempts to money-grub.

Keep those second-hand phones in the market and force manufacturers to keep making phones at least as well as their old products. This is still recycling! It’s keeping the phone from its final death in a landfill, and extending it’s life for as long as possible.

6. Broken Phones Still have Valuable Parts

If the phone’s so broken that it’s not possible to re-sell it, consider recycling it anyway – lithium batteries have many uses, and as mentioned before, those rare earth metals aren’t getting any less rare. Recycling the phone by sending it somewhere to get it broken down is also valid recycling. If you can squeeze just a little bit more use out of a device by dropping it off or passing it on – why wouldn’t you?

Besides, the facility will know how to handle that battery!




You Don’t Need New Clothes From Shein

Elizabeth Technology February 20, 2024

The fast fashion and consumer gadget industries are pumping out literal tons of cheap products for insanely low prices. While having the ability to order a super cheap pair of corduroy pants for a costume would ordinarily be cool, it’s costing more than money to make and buy these clothes, and consumers have been relying on this industry for content instead the actual clothing, which is making it worse.

First, a better-known fashion brand decides corsets are back in and makes one for a show. If this idea is accepted, then other fashion houses get in on the trend and start bringing corsets out to the runway to compete. Eventually, celebrities wear them, and because celebrities are wearing them, ordinary people want to wear them too.

The catch is that not all of them have designer money, and other companies profit off of that by making cheaper ‘dupes’ of the initial design. Not close enough to get sued over, but clearly inspired. Many people go this route, but some are looking for an even cheaper product – they may want to keep up with the trends on a student budget, for example, and know they don’t need high or even medium quality clothing because they’re used to this routine. They know something new will pop up on social media before they really put it to the test. It just needs to look good now.

Less reputable stores sense the demand via a number of channels and start producing a corset top that might or might not be just like one of the fashion brand ones if it were made of polyester and had plastic bones instead of metal ones, producing absurd amounts at a time using underpaid labor from a different market. These are much closer, at least on paper, to the original piece of clothing – Shein has been caught multiple times outright stealing designs. Eventually, demand runs out, the item is no longer trendy, and instead of recycling the fabric or trying to time the end of the line better, all of the remainder of the product that didn’t sell now goes to a landfill, and production of the next item begins. There’s always a next item! There’s usually multiple. Social media has made it easier than ever for things to trend off of a whisper of a hint from an influencer, and because the products are so cheap, it’s easy to buy and then dump entire wardrobes’ worth of clothing every two months on the consumer side, which keeps the ball rolling. 

Temu sells other consumer goods like plastic strainers or desk knickknacks, and Alibaba, which has been around for longer than either Temu or Shein, seems to sell everything under the sun, some more legit than the rest. The machine continues to profit because even when something manages to survive four or five trips through the washing machine or dishwasher without disintegrating, it’ll get tossed anyway to make room for the next product. The textiles are dirt-cheap, the labor is dirt-cheap, the shipping and the disposal are both wasteful but without consequence. The final result is a market fueled by demand for things that can be let go as garbage with the least friction possible.  

The invention of “Shein Hauls” is one of the worse things to come out of TikTok. The clothing itself is so cheap to buy that it doesn’t make sense to spend the gas to return it once it’s arrived. None of it looks very good off camera. As long as we show interest in online content buying huge amounts of clothes or trying cheap gadgets, these sites have a market.

Sources: https://www.bu.edu/sph/news/articles/2022/the-aftermath-of-fast-fashion-how-discarded-clothes-impact-public-health-and-the-environment/