Apple Take Note: You Can Park Lenovo’s New Cordless Mouse on a Wireless Charging Pad

Illustration for article titled Apple Take Note: You Can Park Lenovo's New Cordless Mouse on a Wireless Charging Pad

Image: Lenovo

It’s been over five years and the second-generation Apple Magic Mouse still needs to be awkwardly flipped on its back like a turtle to be recharged with a lightning cable—rendering it unusable in the process. A better approach is what Lenovo has done with its new Go mouse, letting it rest atop a wireless charging pad when its battery is low.

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The mouse is one of two products introduced as part of the new Lenovo Go accessories line. The other is a new Lenovo Go-branded USB-C power bank with 20,000 mAh capacity and 65-watt power output so that it can be used to charge a laptop as well as two other battery hungry devices at the same time. Both are available next month with the power bank going for $90, but it’s the $60 Lenovo Go Wireless Multi-Device Mouse that’s definitely the more interesting of the two.

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Image: Lenovo

That’s not to say that Lenovo has reinvented the mouse here, with just two navigation buttons and a scroll wheel it’s a fairly mundane design. But it can connect to three different devices at the same time, allowing users to choose which one it’s controlling—a laptop, desktop, tablet, etc.—using a dedicated button on top. It’s also cordless, charging through a USB-C port on the front that means it can still be used as a mouse while it’s powering up, or it can be parked atop a Qi-compatible charging pad for a few hours when it’s not needed. Apple, are you taking notes?

For Its Next Trick, Motorola Is Working On Smartphones That Can Charge Wirelessly Over the Air

Motorola’s next batch of devices might feature a new remote wireless charging ability.

Motorola’s next batch of devices might feature a new remote wireless charging ability.
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

They haven’t all been home runs, but Motorola is known for taking chances. The company has repeatedly shown it’s not afraid to bet on new technology, from the recently phased-out Moto Mods back to the first wafer-thin Razr feature phones. Now, Motorola is trying its hand at remote wireless charging for smartphones by partnering up with former CalTech engineers. Many have tried, but no company has made over-the-air charging a widespread thing. So why not try again?

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The concept behind remote wireless charging is basically the same as wifi and mesh networking, though within a smaller scope. Instead of physically placing your smartphone atop a specified charging plate, you can walk into the range of the charger’s connection to start charging your phone.

GuRu, the company partnering with Motorola on the charging standard, is named after its hardware requirements. “Gu” stands for the generator unit, which is, in this case, a ceiling-mounted power generator. “Ru” stands for receiving unit, referring to the bite-sized receiving chip built into the smartphone. GuRu uses millimeter-wave frequency—the same kind that enables ultra-fast, short-range 5G networks—to transmit the wireless charging signal.

According to ZDNet’s deep dive into how GuRu’s over-the-air wireless charging technology works:

Instead of using one huge power transmitter, which blasts waves of energy in all directions, GuRu’s solution uses a small transmitter made up of interconnected modules that use millimeter-waves (mmWave), a radio frequency typically defined in the 30GHz to 300GHz range that works within line-of-sight. (MmWave is also used by the current 5G standard to send data at extremely high speed over relatively short distances compared to the Sub-6 GHz 5G tech.)

Because GuRu is using millimeter-wave frequencies and smart algorithms, its transmitters and receivers can be miniaturized, and it allows it to better direct and confine the EM waves compared to waves in the higher microwave bands — the very same wavelengths where Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are operating.

GuRu told ZDNet that the generator could concurrently track and transmit to multiple receivers within distances exceeding 30 feet regardless of the device’s wattage requirement. And since it’s scalable, GuRu’s wireless technology could be used to power up everything from earbuds, headphones, smartwatches, and even laptops and tablets, as well as charging multiple devices concurrently. Imagine Motorola hinging an entire lineup of accessories for its smartphones on this wireless charging specification—like Moto Mods but useful.

The concept of charging a smartphone by simply walking into a room is pretty neat. Seeing it come to fruition is another thing entirely, as most of the time, remote wireless charging is nothing more than a “tantalizing tech demo,” to borrow a phrase from Gizmodo’s Andrew Liszewski. Overseas Android favorites Xiaomi and Oppo, are pushing through their versions of the technology, with Oppo’s Wireless Air Charging being the most competitive. But unlike GuRu’s implementation, Oppo’s technology is limited to charging devices from a mere four inches away.

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GuRu’s remote wireless charging specification could be the sort of thing that helps Motorola recapture the smartphone spotlight. With Lenovo at the helm, Motorola is clearly willing to take risks. Wireless charging has become the default for flagship smartphones, and GuRu’s implementation would take a Motorola phone to the next level.

Matter Is a New Smart Home Standard to Make Apple, Google, and Amazon Devices Work Together

Imagine never having to struggle to connect devices to your home ever again.

Imagine never having to struggle to connect devices to your home ever again.
Screenshot: Business Wire / Connectivity Standards Alliance

Apple, Amazon, and Google rarely have a reason to work together, but the companies are teaming up for a new smart home standard, now called Matter, that will make it easier for you to buy devices that work seamlessly together without thinking about it.

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The Matter branding, which emerged from what was formerly known as Project Connected Home over IP (CHIP), will help you figure out which smart devices are compatible with the Matter standard, which already works with Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant. Soon those devices will be branded with a symbol that looks like three arrows all pointing at one another—think of the Spider-Man meme, but make it smart home.

The launch of Matter also marks the end of the Zigbee Alliance. It’s now known as the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), focusing on uniting manufacturers and other companies around Matter. There’s also a push for releasing Matter’s open-source code to device makers already on Github.

Matter uses a combination of Ethernet, wifi, Thread, and Bluetooth LE to connect. Its ultimate function is to standardize how gadgets identify themselves and what they can do together, essentially taking the heavy lifting off of you to set it all up. Currently if you have a dozen devices connected to your network with similar antennas, they might not have the software to sync with one another.

As reported by StaceyonIoT, a video released as part of the rebranding shows multiple devices working together through a feature called Multi-Admin:

The video’s narrator calls the feature Multi-Admin, and promises that “users can connect devices to multiple apps and multiple ecosystems locally, securely and simultaneously.” It also sounds like users will also be able to grant control of devices at an individual level, which means that connecting a Nest account to an Amazon Echo might not require adding all of the devices associated with that Nest account. This could make it easier to put a controller of some sort in a guest bedroom letting your guest have access to some home controls, but not all of them.

It sounds like this could be an automated feature that’s as easy as logging into an app and allowing it to scan your network—akin to how you’d log on to a wifi network.

The first Matter-compatible gadgets emblazoned with the new logo should arrive before the end of 2021, with more expected in 2022. Philips Hue is already on board, offering to release a software update in the coming months to make its massive lineup of smart bulbs and lighting compatible. Other early adopters include Google, Comcast, Nanoleaf, Schlage, Samsung SmartThings, and Texas Instruments.

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Arduino’s New DIY Kit Makes It Easy to Build Smart Home Gadgets

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Photo: John Biggs/Gizmodo

The Arduino Oplà kit is a simple way to start building Internet of Things gadgets for fun and, for some, profit. The $114 starter kit includes an Arduino MKR WiFi 1010 board—basically a tiny, programmable microprocessor—and an IoT Carrier that looks kind of like a flower with an OLED screen in the center. What you can do with this kit, however, is surprising and quite fun.

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First, some background: Arduino boards, like the popular Raspberry Pi computers, are single-board systems. You can upload code to them, just as you would any electronics project, but Arduino boards are also standalone, which means you can plug them into regular power bricks and they’ll keep doing what they’re programmed to do, over and over, forever. Because they are expandable, you can add different features like sensors, batteries, and screens. This package consists of the wifi-enabled board —the brains of the outfit—and the add-on Carrier that acts as an I/O system that can sense touch, motion, temperature, humidity, light, and even motion. Assembling this thing takes seconds and programming your first project is as easy as copying some code.

How It Works

If you’re an electronics hobbyist, you’ll really like the Oplà. Designed for beginners, the system used Arduino’s own web-based programming platform to code and upload various programs. The kit includes a full year of Arduino’s premium IoT Maker services, which means you can access the Oplà remotely through your wifi connection.

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Photo: John Biggs/Gizmodo

The biggest question folks likely have is, “What can you build?” Like most of these electronics kits, Arduino includes a few sample projects that use the Carrier’s on-board sensors. For example, you can build a weather station that senses the temperature, barometric pressure, and humidity and displays current outdoor weather. The program lets you touch the capacitive buttons on the edge of the device to switch from feature to feature, and you can even plug in a rechargeable battery and stick the entire thing inside a Nest-like plastic shell for wall mounting.

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This kit is also good for prototyping your own projects. Built-in relays and I/O ports let you control things like lamps and electrical equipment, and you can connect nearly any type of sensor to the package. While you wouldn’t want to sell your Oplà as a finished product, you can mock up how an electronics project would work in reality, something that engineers love about these systems. Because the board has wifi built-in, the system will connect to Arduino’s own programming portal and transmit data from the device to your computer.

How Hard Is It to Use?

The most important question when it comes to electronics kits like this one is ease of use. Having a cute little board and processor is useless if it’s hard to program or control.

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Illustration for article titled Arduino's New DIY Kit Makes it Easy to Build Smart Home Gadgets

Photo: John Biggs/Gizmodo

Luckily, Arduino’s own cloud services make it surprisingly easy to code for the Oplà. I opened the box, plugged the board into the Carrier, and then connected the board to my computer. In most cases, the board should appear as a device in the Arduino IDE and Oplà uses a new management system that splits projects into Things and Dashboards. Things are basically the board and the code that runs on it, which means you will be setting up changeable variables and writing simple code to read the various sensors.

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I started out by building a simple “alarm” system that lets you light, motion, and shake sensors on and off via a remote dashboard. The code itself is fairly straightforward and takes data from the sensors and then transmits it to the dashboard. If the variables reach a certain threshold, the system sends out an audible and visual alert and shows text on the screen.

In fact, because the system includes two 24-volt relays, you can use this device to control electric devices like fans and heaters. For example, you can create a program that lets you set the internal temperature and then write a loop that simply checks the air temperature and turns on a fan if things get too hot.

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Illustration for article titled Arduino's New DIY Kit Makes it Easy to Build Smart Home Gadgets

Screenshot: Arduino.cc

These tools are also kid-friendly in that they are easy to learn but difficult to master. Because this is a standalone system, the Oplà makes it easy to create clever little projects that can grow and change over time—imagine a greenhouse controller, a fish tank temperature system, or nearly anything you can imagine. Not bad for a $114 kit.

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Illustration for article titled Arduino's New DIY Kit Makes it Easy to Build Smart Home Gadgets

Photo: Arduinio.cc

To Buy or Not to Buy

The Oplà isn’t for everyone. Arduino programming is a lot of fun, but it takes some technical prowess. Fans of Raspberry Pi, for example, will find the board’s power a bit underwhelming, but because it is standalone, you can plug your projects right into the wall without having to install SD cards or other storage systems. In fact, thanks to the battery bracket, you can even stick your Oplà somewhere without main power.

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The things this kit does aren’t unique. You can probably recreate most of the features with a few parts bought from stores like Adafruit. However, to have them all in one package is nice. I really liked this little board—all of the features, from the touch-sensitive buttons to the sensors to the simple OLED screen, make it a great addition to the DIY engineer’s hobby box. It takes a little time to learn how to use tools like the Oplà, but once you figure it out, the world of electronics becomes more accessible and a lot more interesting.

Minnesota Republicans Hold State Parks, Museums, Zoos Hostage Over EV Fight

An electric vehicle charging station.

An electric vehicle charging station.
Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

In Minnesota, a fight is playing out over electric vehicles. It got so heated this week that Republican lawmakers threatened to not pass a budget that would allow parks, zoos, and museums—you know, largely outdoor places people can congregate safely if not vaccinated or live their best post-pandemic lives—to open this summer.

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At issue is whether Minnesota will adopt auto emissions standards based on California’s, a move already made by 15 other states. Those standards are stricter than the current federal standards. The move was first proposed by Democratic Gov. Tim Walz in 2019. Adoption of the standards would also mandate that more electric vehicles be sold in the state, all moves that would help Minnesota meet its climate goal of reducing emissions 80% by 2050.

Yet the issue has become a “political football,” said Justin Fay, the director of government affairs at Fresh Energy, a nonprofit that advocates for clean energy in the state. As part of the rule making process, the new standards are before an administrative court. A decision from the judge on whether they pass legal muster is expected Friday, just 10 days before a contentious state legislature session adjourns.

“We’re coming down to the wire, and that’s why emotions are running higher than usual,” Fay said.

The scuffle over the state’s parks happened Tuesday as both the Democrat-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate hammered out details for budgets. In the state Senate version of a budget for Minnesota’s natural resources departments, Republicans had inserted a provision that would essentially block the clean car standards from coming into law. During the budget conversations, GOP politicians made it clear that that provision was very important for them—and that they wouldn’t pass a budget for other environmental considerations in the state, from funding the Department of Natural Resources to state parks, science museums, and zoos, without dragging the clean cars rule down first.

As the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported, after Republican state Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, the chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee, said he wouldn’t pass any budget that didn’t have the anti-clean cars provision attached, state Rep. Rick Hansen, his Democratic counterpart in the House, asked for clarification to confirm he would block funding for parks and other institutions and agencies.

“That’s exactly correct,” said Ingebrigtsen. “I think we can move forward, but it’s going to have to be with that understanding.”

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The state parks see some 9.7 million visitors in an average year. After tourism basically flatlined last year, the risk of park closures for a second year right as the U.S. appears to be getting a grip on the pandemic and reopening would be devastating to local communities. Perhaps sensing the risk of using them as a bargaining chip, Ingebrigtsen tried to wriggle out of the situation his party created.

“I never said anything about a shutdown,” he told the committee Thursday (despite the fact that he, well, kind of did). The Senate’s budget has also since been amended to create a two-year moratorium on adopting the California standards, rather than chucking them altogether.

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Why Republicans are fixated on blocking clean cars appears to be largely anti-California sentiment. The idea that Minnesota would hand over the keys, so to speak, to a state that’s often coded as the country’s liberal bastion has become a boogeyman not just in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but Republican-controlled states and allied industries around the U.S.

The Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association campaign opposing the rule is called Drive Away California Cars, and its website gravely intones “[w]e will only be able to do what California tells us.” (It also includes a scaremongering line that “even BBQ grills” could face regulations if this rule goes through.) Auto dealers have generally been resistant to electric vehicle companies like Tesla that don’t follow the dealership model and pose a threat to dealerships’ political clout and bottom line.

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The agency responsible for writing the rule said it has also been battling misinformation spread by some legislators, from the misguided belief that Minnesotans would be forced to buy electric vehicles to the idea that the law would apply to farm vehicles. Many politicians have also seemed to hint at a culture clash between electric vehicles and some of Minnesota’s rural communities.

In contrast, many of the world’s major automakers have said they support the tougher standards. California is the largest car market in the country, and the states that use its strict standards make up around 35% of new passenger vehicle sales; manufacturing different types of cars for different markets is a headache, so the more states that opt for the strict rule, the better. With the rest of the world also moving towards EVs and more and more emissions legislation being passed, it’s pretty clear to manufacturers that their futures hinge on making their cars as clean as possible. At the local level, Fay noted that while the Minnesota Automobile Dealers’ Association has driven a lot of opposition on the ground, the Virginia Automobile Dealers’ Association was actually part of a coalition that helped that state adopt the new standards.

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Virginia adopted the California rules in March, and New Mexico and Nevada are also hammering out the details for their own adoption. With the Trump administration—which put up an enormous fight with California over the standards—gone and the Biden administration indicating that stricter federal standards are probably on the way, there’s a wave of states stepping up to the plate to sign up for California’s version.

The issues that played out this week in Minnesota—especially around how GOP lawmakers paint electric vehicles as a bad fit for rural red and purple states— will undoubtedly be on display nationally as more and more states get going on legislation to encourage electric vehicle use. But Fay said that even if the administrative judge rejects the law Friday, it would probably just be sent back to the agency for minor drafting tweaks. One way or another, it does seem that Minnesota will adopt the California standards.

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“It’s hard to know what other dramatic turns we have in store [with the legislature] are,” Fay said. “but we do know that the result is the rules are going to be final, and cleaner cars are coming to Minnesota.”

Too Many of You Still Believe in 5G Conspiracy Theories

A woman walks past posters debunking the 5G conspiracy theory causes covid-19

Photo: William West/ AFP (Getty Images)

5G conspiracies are nothing new. They’ve been tirelessly debunked several times and yet a 2021 survey found that roughly 24% of people believe that at least one 5G conspiracy is true. C’mon, really?

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The data comes via a new research survey by InMyArea.com (IMA), a website that specializes in ISP comparison shopping based on zip code. According to the findings, roughly two-thirds of respondents first heard a 5G conspiracy theory in the past year. Unsurprisingly, online communities were where most people first heard a 5G conspiracy theory, followed by a family member or friend sharing an article.

The theory that 5G causes cancer was most widely known at 50% of respondents. Other common theories included 5G spreading covid-19 (36%), China or Bill Gates using 5G to spy on or brainwash Americans (35% and 32%, respectively), and lockdowns being used as a diversion to install 5G towers (30%). In encouraging news, however, most people didn’t believe them. For example, only 10% of those familiar with the 5G cancer theory actually believed it. On the flip side, fringe theories had a higher percentage of believers. While only 20% had heard 5G damages trees and plants, nearly a quarter of those people believed it to be true. Depressingly, 15% believed the U.N. is using 5G to depopulate the planet, 19% believed 5G can kill birds, and 13% believed China uses 5G to spy on Americans.

Illustration for article titled Too Many of You Still Believe in 5G Conspiracy Theories

Image: InMyArea.com

It bears repeating that none of these conspiracies are true and have been repeatedly debunked. Most can also be traced back to other popular conspiracy theories like government coverups, military mind control experiments, and radiophobia, the fear that high-frequency waves will make you sick. (Fun fact: the first mentions of radiophobia date all the way back to the early 1900s.)

To be fair, this is only one survey of roughly 1,000 people who were familiar with 5G. Plus, self-reported data always comes with caveats (i.e., faulty memories, exaggeration, etc.). However, we do know that many Americans are utterly baffled by 5G. A Decluttr survey of 2,000 U.S. smartphone owners found that one in three Americans believe they have 5G phones and that 62% of them claimed to have seen faster speeds. This includes iPhone owners on every major carrier, despite the fact this survey was conducted before Apple even launched a 5G iPhone. It’s hard to find concrete numbers on how many Americans actually have 5G compatible phones and data plans, but Statista estimates that in August 2020 5G phones had a mere 13.5% market share in America. Of InMyArea.com’s survey respondents, 70% said they hadn’t switched over to 5G yet. This is a lot of ways to say most Americans know diddly squat about 5G.

But perhaps the most baffling result in IMA’s survey was that 35.9% of 5G conspiracy believers also say that they currently use 5G. So, apparently, not even wackadoodle 5G conspiracy theories can stop conspiracy theorists from being addicted to their phones.

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60% of School Apps Are Sharing Your Kids’ Data With Third Parties

Illustration for article titled 60% of School Apps Are Sharing Your Kids' Data With Third Parties

Photo: Kena Bentacur (Getty Images)

Over the past year, we’ve seen schools shift to digital services at an unprecedented rate as a way to educate kids safely during the covid-19 pandemic. We’ve also seen these digital tools slurp up these kid’s data at a similarly unprecedented rate, suffer massive breaches, and generally handle student’s personal information with a lot less care than they should.

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Case in point: A new report published Tuesday by the tech-focused nonprofit Me2B Alliance found the majority of school utility apps were sharing some amount of student data with third-party marketing companies. The Me2B team surveyed a few dozen so-called “utility” apps for school districts—the kind that students and parents download to, say, review their school’s calendar or bussing schedules—and found roughly 60% of them sharing everything from a student’s location to their entire contact list, to their phone’s mobile ad identifiers, all with companies these students and their parents likely never heard of.

In order to figure out what kind of data these apps were sharing, Me2B analyzed the software development kits (or SDKs) that these apps came packaged with. While SDks can do all sorts of things, these little libraries of code often help developers monetize their free-to-download apps by sharing some sort of data with third-party ad networks. Facebook has some super popular SDKs, as does Google. Of the 73 apps surveyed in the report, there were 486 total SDKs throughout—with an average of just over 10 SDKs per app surveyed.

Of that 486 total bits of code, nearly 63% (306) were owned and operated by either Facebook or Google. The rest of those SDKs were sharing data with some lesser-known third parties, with names like AdColony and Admob.

But the data sharing didn’t stop there. As the report points out, these lesser-known SDKs would often share the data pulled from these student apps with dozens—if not hundreds—of other little-known third parties. What’s interesting here is that these SDKs, in particular, were found abundantly in Android apps, but way fewer iOS apps ended up bringing these pieces of tech onboard (91% versus 26%, respectively).

There are a few reasons why this might be the case. First, even if Apple isn’t always careful about following its own privacy rules, the company does set a certain standard that every iOS developer needs to follow, particularly when it comes to tracking and targeting the people using their apps. Most recently, Apple turned this up to 11 by mandating App Tracking Transparency (ATT) reports for the apps in its store, which literally request a user’s permission in order to track their activity outside of the app.

Even though Android does have its own review process for apps, historically, we’ve seen some insecure apps slip through the cracks and onto countless people’s devices. Also, there’s a good chance that many apps developed for Android are beaming some degree of data right back to Google.

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And with Apple slowly tightening its standards surrounding ATT, it’s possible that the divide between the two OS’s will only keep broadening—which leaves student’s data stuck in the middle.

It’s Apparently Possible to Drill a Key Ring Hole Into Apple’s AirTags Without Messing Them Up

Illustration for article titled It's Apparently Possible to Drill a Key Ring Hole Into Apple's AirTags Without Messing Them Up

Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

One of the first things that jumped out to me when I saw Apple’s long-awaited AirTags was their surface, which reminds me of a giant, polished M&M. Like real M&Ms, AirTags don’t have any holes, which means that you have to buy AirTag accessories to hook the device to your keys or hang it on your purse. However, although Apple did not include a key ring hole in the AirTags, you can apparently make one yourself without messing them up too much.

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In their teardown of the AirTag published on Saturday, the folks over at iFixit decided to test whether it was possible to drill a key ring hole into the device, a noble service for those who don’t want to shell out the extra cash for accessories and are willing to take the risk of destroying the thing. If this sounds like you, you’ll need a 1/16” drill bit, according to iFixit.

Before wielding your drill, the first thing you have to do is remove the battery. The key lies in locating and successfully drilling through one of the three notches, which you can see clearly over at iFixit, in the AirTag’s circuit board and antenna shield. The notches are made for the clips that hold the AirTag together. (Remember, although AirTag batteries last more than a year without charging, they can be replaced by pulling off the back of the device).

iFixit notes that the location of the notches “roughly” corresponds to that of the clips for the metal battery cover, which means they can serve as a guide. Now, you want to drill through the notch, not through the clip itself. But should you have bad luck, doing this purportedly won’t kill your AirTag.

In the case that you are successful (and we hope that you are, because who wants to throw money away), iFixit states that the AirTag should work “as if nothing happened.” The device’s speaker, which it uses to emit chimes to help you find it if you lose it or inform others that there’s a lost AirTag nearby, was hardly affected.

There is a price to pay for saving a few bucks, though. iFixit states that if you drill a hole in your AirTag, you shouldn’t expect it to remain waterproof and dust resistant. Meanwhile, MacRumors points out that this will undoubtedly void Apple’s warranty.

In the end, those of you searching for your drill have a decision to make. Is it worth taking a risk when there are accessories available for $12.95 or less? The waterproof thing also worries me, mainly because I’ve had to open my door in the rain. Alas, it is a choice each one of us must make. May luck be on your side.

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Researchers Take Down Botnet Pretending to Be Millions of People Watching TV

Illustration for article titled Researchers Take Down Botnet Pretending to Be Millions of People Watching TV

Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

Fraudsters operate off the assumption that it’s way more profitable to think up byzantine ways to cheat people out of money than it is to just, like, work hard and ask for a promotion occasionally. For instance: an Israeli tech company is currently accused of using a very convoluted method to screw advertisers out of buttloads of cash by pretending to be a bunch of people watching TV.

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TopTop Media, a subsidiary of Tel Aviv-based M51 Group, bills itself as a tech company focused on solutions for app developers and advertisers. It promises to employ “real-time optimization and user profiling” in order to leverage data it gathers from its “ongoing media acquisition activities” and, you know, deliver profits somewhere in there. However, according to new research from security firm HUMAN, TopTop’s “solutions” are less than desirable.

In an elaborate scheme, the company allegedly created 29 malicious Android apps and then snuck them into the Google Play Store and third-party stores, managing to quietly infect close to a million devices with malware. The infected devices were then allegedly used to build an ever-growing botnet that fraudulently spoofed connections to streaming-TV platforms all over the world, thereby generating illegitimate ad revenue.

In other words, like other ad fraud, the scheme sought to bilk elements of the advertising ecosystem that pay for the opportunity to show ads to consumers. Because advertisers will pay streaming apps for the opportunity to use their platforms to display ads, generating the appearance of being an app like this can get you, in the immortal words of Dire Straits, money for nothing. Thus TopTop’s malicious apps used spoofing sorcery to fool ad exchanges into believing they were just such streaming apps, active on smart TV products from Apple, Amazon, Google, and others— thereby generating the appearance of “millions of people watching ads on smart TVs and other devices,” researchers say. 

The dozens of apps involved in the alleged scam all linked back to the same command and control server. While designed to appear harmless (such as the innocuous-looking flashlight app pictured below), the apps were, in reality, making an average of 650 million bid requests a day. Such requests are automatically triggered by online user engagement—like a click or a “view”—and represent the lifeblood of the online ad industry.

Illustration for article titled Researchers Take Down Botnet Pretending to Be Millions of People Watching TV

Screenshot: Lucas Ropek/HUMAN Security

In a different but related case, affiliates of the same company reportedly deployed 36 malicious apps onto the Roku’s Channel Store, which similarly spoofed connections to smart TVs and other streaming products in an effort to garner illegitimate ad revenue.

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“The operators behind the botnet took advantage of the recent shift to digital accelerated by the pandemic by hiding in the noise in order to trick advertisers and technology platforms into believing that ads were being shown on consumer streaming devices,” HUMAN researchers write.

Michael McNally, one of the company’s top researchers, said in an interview that in many cases, the apps used were merely open-source programs that had been turned into trojans. The developers repackaged the apps, injected them with malicious code, then attempted to shepherd them onto popular platforms where a lot of people would download them. With nearly a million Android users unwittingly caught up in the vast, rat-king-like botnet, the scheme apparently worked like gangbusters.

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HUMAN says that they helped take the botnet down and that the apps involved have all since been deleted from Google and Roku’s stores. Law enforcement has also been notified. We have reached out to the M51 Group for comment on this story and will update it if we hear back from them.

Sound Reactive Bluetooth Speaker Uses Magnetic Ferrofluid to Become a Real-Life Winamp Visualizer

Years before the iPod was a thing, many of us relied on an app called Winamp to listen to MP3s. It was free, it was simple, but most of us used it for its visualizers that created complex, trippy animations synced to our music. Artist Dakd Jung has created a real-life version of those visualizers with a custom ferrofluid-filled Bluetooth speaker that also looks like a lava lamp come to life.

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Invented by a Nasa engineer as a way to pump rocket fuel in a zero-G weightless environment, ferrofluid is created by mixing a magnetic material, like tiny iron filings, with a liquid mixture that prevents the particles from sticking together. It flows like a liquid, but it also reacts to the presence of a magnetic field, allowing it to be moved around and animated without the need for physical interactions. It’s most often used for desk toys, but Dakd Jung has found an even better use for it.

Although the Bluetooth speaker’s custom housing came from a 3D printer which often leaves creations looking decidedly hacked together, Jung sanded and painted it until its finish resembled a high-end piece of consumer electronics you’d find on the shelf at the Apple Store. Hidden away inside are three upward-firing speaker drivers, a compact amplifier, and a Bluetooth module so it can be wirelessly connected to an audio source.

What’s not hidden is a round glass container sitting front and center illuminated by a set of white LEDs. Inside it is a blob of ferrofluid suspended in a clear liquid that doesn’t do anything when the speaker is turned off. But thanks to an electromagnet mounted behind the glass container whose power is controlled by an Arduino Nano based on the music being played, the ferrofluid comes to life and dances around, tears itself apart, and re-solidifies in sync to the tunes. In addition to volume, a second dial on the speaker’s face controls the specific audio frequency the ferrofluid responds to, allowing it to selectively react to a song’s treble or bass depending on which is more emphatic in the mix.