Category Archives: Tech

Articles about software and technology

Why you shouldn’t shop at Banggood, GearBest, or any other China-based wholesaler

If you buy stuff from on-line stores such as Banggood, GearBest, or any other of a laundry list of China-based wholesalers, you may be surprised at what is going on behind the scenes with many of these businesses. I wasn’t aware of the scale of this problem until recently when i came across a video about electric motors for the remote-controlled hobby industry while researching parts for a build-it-yourself multi-rotor/drone aircraft. But first, a little of the back-story.

Remember when the big-box stores such as Sears, Grants, and later, Walmart, actually sold quality products? Unless you’re in your 50s or older, probably not, but i happen to have been around long enough to be able to observe the massive decline in the quality of the products they sell. You see, it used to be that when you bought a refrigerator, a washer, or a lawn mower from a store like Sears, your kids might have inherited it because it was built to last. I remember seeing refrigerators and other appliances that were far older than i was and some of them are probably still in operation. Today however, in our “consumer” driven society, it is common to have to replace our appliances, tools and electronics every few years because we live in a world of planned obsolescence where products are specifically designed to fail. Worse, it seems the public at large doesn’t even mind spending their cash on the same gadget over and over again, as though it is the new normal. Of course planned obsolescence makes perfect monetary sense from an economic point of view because it is obviously far more profitable to sell consumers the same product multiple times than it is to design products they never have to replace.

Ignoring the ethical problem of planned obsolescence for a moment, we can realize a much bigger problem and that is the fact that we live and depend upon a precious little planet which holds a finite amount of resources such as coal and oil, both of which are critical in the manufacturing of the widgets we buy, and yet our economic systems are based on an infinite growth model. Obviously this cannot continue because it is simply not possible and yet manufactures and wholesalers, like Banggood and so many others, continue to add to the problem by designing and marketing junk which is largely manufactured by cheap Chinese labor. And it gets worse. It isn’t just that they sell a lot of junk, they also sell a lot of fake junk that is marketed as the real junk. Apparently what is happening is that these Chinese wholesalers are taking products which are in high demand and hiring China-based companies to clone them using sub-par components and then sell the copies on their international websites for the same price as the originals. Like myself, you may have known that the Chinese are great at replicating things, but what you may not have known, and i certainly didn’t, is that these copies are showing up en masse among some of the largest on-line retailers on the web and it gets even funnier, or sadder, depending on how you look at it.

As i wrote earlier, i learned about these shenanigans whilst watching a video of a guy talking about the electric motors that are used in the hobby industry, specifically the multi-rotor faction of it (so-called “drones” or “quad copters”), but in no way whatsoever is this problem limited to the hobby industry. In the video, he discloses information that was obtained directly from various engineers regarding these Chinese wholesalers, some who live and work in China. The video picks up at the 26:50 mark where he begins discussing the topic, but if you happen to be an RC enthusiast who has a deep interest in electric motor design, you might want to watch it in its entirety.


Looking Glass: The next ‘bright idea’ from Mozilla (updated)

Back in the day, Firefox was sort of a hackers power browser that fit a niche market. It was probably the most tweakable mainstream web browser on the planet for both geeks and average users alike. Although it is still highly customizable, it has become less so since Mozilla decided to terminate support for so-called “legacy” add-ons and replace them with WebExtensions of the same type as used by Google Chrome. Matter of fact, Firefox has become a Google Chrome clone as far as i’m concerned and some of us — a core Firefox audience that liked running something different and something that wasn’t ‘Googlized’ — didn’t want anything to do with Google, much less their Chrome web browser.

In its [not so] slow, steady decline and separation from its core values, Mozilla has dumbed-down Firefox to the point where it is hardly recognizable and changed its add-on API several times, thus forcing developers to rewrite their code in order to comply with yet another new standard. The developer of the much loved Search WP extension had this to say:

I’d love to support Firefox 57 (with all my extensions) but

1) Webextensions are just *too* limited. You simply can’t do anything useful with them until somebody adds an API just for you. It already starts with the most basic functionality of SearchWP: there does not seem to be a way to modify the search bar.

2) Mozilla ruthlessly breaking all existing extensions on purpose and removing customization possibilities with every new version of Firefox made me loose trust in the foundation and the browser itself – I’m not willing to spend my spare time on a project that has set a course that goes against everything Firefox once stood for.

And the stupidity continues…

For some time Mozilla has been packaging extensions with Firefox in the form of system add-ons, or “features” as Mozilla calls them. Not only is the option to uninstall these add-ons absent from the user interface, but most people aren’t even aware they exist since they’re hidden from the Add-Ons panel (if you want to know more about system add-ons and how to remove them, read the article, Firefox Configuration Guide for Privacy Freaks and Performance Buffs).

In its latest burst of stupidity, Mozilla is now installing yet another add-on without consulting users, but this time, to their undeserved credit, they have made it removable apparently. ‘Looking Glass‘ appears to be some kind of metrics collection add-on disguised as an augmented reality game created by the PUG Experience Group, whoever the hell they are, and it is part of a series of “Shield Studies” conducted by Mozilla. To see what studies Mozilla has foisted upon you that you didn’t agree to, enter about:studies in the address bar and then about:preferences#privacy to opt out. Better yet, stop using the Mozilla version of Firefox altogether.

Of course adding this unwanted crap to Firefox isn’t the worst of it. A while back, Mozilla decided that it needed to jump on the “fake news” bandwagon with its newly created Mozilla Information Trust Initiative in order to steer you away from sources of information that the multi-million dollar Mozilla Foundation decides are not suitable for your consumption.

I no longer suggest using Firefox, at least not the version distributed by Mozilla. If you want Firefox with the privacy disrespecting garbage removed, consider using Waterfox, which is a more privacy-centric, 64 bit fork of Firefox that will apparently continue to support XUL (legacy) extensions in addition to the newer WebExtensions. Some of the features of Waterfox are:

  • Disabled Encrypted Media Extensions (EME)
  • Removed Pocket
  • Removed Telemetry
  • Removed data collection
  • Removed startup profiling
  • Allow running of all 64-Bit NPAPI plugins
  • Allow running of unsigned extensions
  • Removal of Sponsored Tiles on New Tab Page

UPDATE: Mozilla apologizes.

On 18-Dec., after many users complained about the inclusion of the Looking Glass add-on, for which almost nothing was known at the time it was distributed, Mozilla published an apology, moved the add-on to the Mozilla add-on repository and published the source code. The post opened with the following nonsensical statement which raises more questions than it answers:

Over the course of the year Firefox has enjoyed a growing relationship with the Mr. Robot television show and, as part of this relationship, we developed an unpaid collaboration to engage our users and viewers of the show in a new way: Fans could use Firefox to solve a puzzle as part of the alternate reality game (ARG) associated with the show.

Does this sound remotely like anything that should be included in an internet web browser? What is the nature of Mozilla’s relationship with Mr. Robot? We already know that Mozilla has a habit of adding unnecessary functionality through its inclusion of 3rd party services for monetary gain and using its relationships with many privacy destroying corporations, such as Google, to monetize necessary functionality, yet they packaged the Looking Glass add-on with Firefox for no other reason other than, what? They like Mr. Robot? They wanted to make sure you weren’t bored by giving you a game to play? Utter bullshit. And why wasn’t the source code published before the add-on was shipped? And how do we know that the published code is identical to the unpublished code?

The rollout did not meet the standards to which we hold ourselves causing concern that was surfaced through our Firefox community.

Yes it did because Mozilla sacrificed its standards long ago. The only reason they published this apology is because enough users complained.

We received feedback regarding the transparency of the rollout and the processes that govern our auto-install mechanism for add-ons. In response we immediately started our internal review, […]

Good thing most users have no clue about the several system add-ons and “features” that ship with Firefox which are forcefully installed, activated, not easily uninstalled, and are used to collect data. Of course we know that no internal review will be performed to address this glaring privacy issue.

We’re sorry for the confusion and for letting down members of our community. While there was no intention or mechanism to collect or share your data or private information […]

When one considers exactly what Mozilla defines as “user data” and “private information”, one realizes how hollow this misleading claim rings. If they’re so concerned about their users, why aren’t they concerned about the data that is still being collected by the forcefully installed system add-ons of which users are largely unaware? Why aren’t these add-ons removed and placed in the add-on repository?