On False Advertising

(a) Civil action

  • Any person who, on or in connection with any goods or services, or any container for goods, uses in commerce any word, term name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof, or any false designation of origin, false or misleading description of fact, or false or misleading representation of fact, which—
    1. is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive as to the affiliation, connection, or association of such person with another person, or as to the origin, sponsorship, or approval of his or her goods, services, or commercial activities by another person, or
    2. in commercial advertising or promotion, misrepresents the nature, characteristics, qualities, or geographic origin of his or her or another person’s good, services, or commercial activities,

shall be liable in a civil action by any person who believes that he or she is or is likely to be damaged by such act.”

  • 15 U.S.C. 1125 (Section 43 of the Lanham Act): False Designations of Origin, False Descriptions, and Dilution Forbidden

Well, that’s a quote.

This blog post was going to be about something entirely different, which I may yet write of later in the week, but being ‘burned’ by an item from Amazon gave me greater impetus to pursue this topic of conversation, as the notion of the subject matter above does in fact hit me on a personal level.

You see, I also make and sell products (err…a ‘product’ at the time of this writing) on Amazon. If somehow you arrived at this blog and didn’t already know that, I’ll fill you in: I write books. I self-publish said-books. And the process to do so requires a degree of effort for me to have the books marketed (tags to describe a book’s genre/subject matter) as well as to entice would-be buyers into making a purchase (a book’s description/back-cover ‘pitch’). Amazon makes it clear that dishonesty in these details is punishable in some way—either the product itself could be taken off the site, or the creator of a product (in this case, me) could be banned from further marketplace utilization. So I spend some time thinking about how best to market my books’ content, not just by what sounds appealing to a potential buyer, but by what’s honest. If I wrote a factual volume on the History of Art in the Baroque Era and marketed it as a far-more-popular fantasy novel,

  1. I’d be an absolute genius.
  2. I’d probably get kicked off Amazon real quick.
  3. No one would take me or my works seriously ever again.

And them’s the breaks, as they say.

And for those of you writing factual volumes on the History of Art in the Baroque Era, godspeed, you beautiful people. I wouldn’t ever dare trying my hand at such a thing.

So, back to being ‘burned.’

I keep my writings and other “important” (using that term loosely) data on a USB Flash Drive for easy portability between my main tower desktop computer, a second desktop connected to a printer, and a personal, mobile laptop. In the pre-pandemic era, I was on the move a lot and wanted to keep writing whether I was relaxing at home or existing elsewhere a hundred miles away, often without an Internet connection (so the Cloud wasn’t a viable option). That and in case of emergency, it’d be a lot quicker and safer to simply unplug said-drive from my computer and pocket it rather than need to lug my whole tower around to secure my life’s work.

And I do mean life’s work – I’ve been at this whole ‘writing thing’ for over a decade and a half. I’ve accrued research material, notes, inspirations, etc., all of which slowly began to take up a good deal of space. (And, as a 20-something millennial that likes to laugh at the world and has always been privileged enough to access the Internet, yes, I have a decent meme collection too, that I simply cannot do without…) So, lo and behold, I had begun to fill up my 128GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive. Rather than trim some fat I hadn’t used in years, the lazy option is of course to go onto Amazon and order the highest-rated, most-affordable thing that was a little bit larger.

That’s where E&jing comes into the story. A 2TB USB 3.0 Flash Drive for $46? I knew hardware was becoming cheaper (at least, storage was becoming cheaper; don’t look at graphics card prices during the pandemic) but that’s some impressive shhhhh—stuff!

If something on the internet looks too good to be true, it is. No probably, no exception, it just is.

I knew that going into this adventure and there were plenty of red flags immediately apparent, such as the reviews for the drive itself. Though overall the product was sporting a 4.5-star rating across a 1,100+ review sample size, the top reviews for the Flash Drive described…something that wasn’t a Flash Drive.

This is telling of a handful of possibilities:

  1. These reviewers got lost. Not unheard of on the Internet, and probably more common than you’d think.
  2. These reviews are actually from bots, possibly trying to give a product a worse score out of spite or otherwise as some form of corporate warfare. Stranger things have happened, so who knows?
  3. This product used to be something else entirely.

Choice 3. is my guess. And if it used to be one thing, it very well could have been something else entirely different before that, and again before that, etc.

After looking at those reviews for a few moments, I took further time to contemplate the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

And then I purchased the product and had it shipped as soon as possible. Thanks, Prime Shipping.

When the package arrived, I was greeted with this…uh…lovely early-2000s Clip Art artwork for the product:

I don’t really understand how barcodes work so I omitted the one here. I’m pretty sure I didn’t need to bother, though.

Well, ain’t lookin’ great for yours truly.

I immediately plugged that sucker in to my computer and the first thing I did was scan it for viruses.


Alright, time to transfer everything from my smaller drive over to the larger drive. Anyone who has ever done that knows what follows:


Though the initial estimate for the process teased an eight-hour journey of sitting around and twiddling my thumbs, it thankfully ‘finished’ in well under two. And by ‘finished’, I of course mean failed to transfer half the files due to *ahem* Why, actually? We don’t know? Well, stick some technical mumbo-jumbo in there, it’ll work fine. —due to ((sector corruption)), which in turn required another two hours of letting windows scan and repair the entire drive just to have another stab at it. Which still didn’t actually resolve the issue entirely, but it alleviated the problem enough to let manual labor sort out the rest of the transfer process.

Something was amiss.

When it comes to the movement of files, you will achieve a higher rate of transfer by moving one large file rather than a ton of smaller ones. Why, you may ask? Something about data allocation and file headers, which I would absolutely love to chat your ear off about sometime and someplace that isn’t right now in this blog. Point being, big file “fast”, many small files “slow.” So I ran a test: How fast could I transfer a few significantly sized files onto this new Flash Drive of mine? The answer may surprise you!

Answer: Not very fast. The total rate of transference seemed to be around 5MB/s.

(I had an image I was going to put here, but it was saved on the drive itself and wound up being corrupted. More on that below.)

OK, OK, I’m beating around the bush a lot here. Tech-savvy readers, or those with an eye keen enough to see the red circles I made in the second image of the drive’s packaging, already know the deal: This is a USB 2.0 drive, not a USB 3.0 drive as the Amazon page would lead you to believe:

I won't be doing E&jing any favors by linking to the actual product itself. If you're that curious, it's easy enough to stumble upon, which is kind of the point.

So, how does this happen?

Well, obviously someone starts by lying, but how do people fall for it? Is there any way to get around it?

The first thing to recognize here is a difference in terminology present in the product’s ‘name’/title and in its hardware specifications. Put plainly, 100Mb/s is not equal to 100 Megabytes Per Second. Mb/s stands for Megabits Per Second, and is most commonly used for data transfer rates over a network—internet speeds, and such. A byte is eight bits. So 100Mb/s is actually advertising 12.5MB/s, which is far closer to the advertised write speeds on the left of the above image but still more than double what I observed in practice. But these are not properties of a USB 3.0 Drive; 3.0 Drives can theoretically support speeds of up to 250MB/s (megabytes/second), though technicians usually impose a hard-limit well below that, usually around the 90-120MB/s mark. (I haven’t been able to identify why, specifically. My guess is on something to do with heat generation, but I’d love for a more insightful response on the matter!)

Secondly, a USB 3.0 Drive typically differs from a USB 2.0 Drive in the sense that the front ‘bus’ of a 3.0 Drive is generally blue, whereas that of a 2.0 Drive is generally black. Or, at least, this used to be the case. At some point in the last few years, manufacturers seem to have gotten lazy and just use either black or blue as they see fit regardless of the actual nature of the device itself.

So, in short, no, at a glance there’s nothing one can do to get around it and people will likely fall for it because the vast majority of the human population doesn’t know the difference between a bit and a byte.

While I do intend to report this product on the Amazon page for False Advertising, I have no intention of returning my device for a refund. It’ll forever serve as an example of dishonesty. Of particular curiosity to me is whether, some years from now, this product’s Amazon page may change to yet another product—under the assumption that the Amazon reviews screenshotted above were genuinely for something else. Regardless of ‘E&jing’s’ actions on this matter, I encourage my readers to remain vigilant and wary of anything too good to be true.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have more shopping to do, this time for a product of greater repute.

PS – After doing some more shopping, I do want to touch on something that people claim is false advertising but really isn’t, and that’s on the difference between reported storage sizes and actual storage sizes:

This happens a lot in this field. And while it looks like corner-cutting profiteering, it’s really just the result of some early-computing-era laziness or negligence, either of which (or both) have perpetuated into current marketing. You see, everything ‘data’ operates based on powers of two. 1,000 is not a power of two; the closest is 2^10, or 1,024. This is important, because metric prefixes specify each successive magnitude by differences in the thousands. However, computers evaluate size-differences in magnitudes by differences in the 1,024’s. Put another way, the metric prefix of ‘Tera’ specifies a ‘trillion’ of something. A trillion bytes, for example: 1,000,000,000,000, or 1,000^4. Unfortunately, this is not the way a computer evaluates a trillion bytes. An actual terabyte, computationally, is 1,024^4 bytes, or 1,099,511,627,776.

I am unfamiliar with the precise origins of this discrepancy in marketing, but I do know it comes as a result of a clash between engineering and computer science.

Dividing 1,000^4 by 1,024^4 gives us a decimal value of around 0.9095 (rounding up). Multiplying 0.9095 by 1,024 gives us the number of actual computational gigabytes available on the drive: 931. This is pretty close to the 920GB reported by the user above, and the remaining eleven gigabytes missing are probably being used by the device’s software, system volume information, memory headers, etc. Some amount of data/file management that is (rightfully) obscured from end-users that wouldn’t know what to do with that information in the first place.

Nothing especially malicious. Just a bit of math and what could be called a translation error (between English and computer-lingo).

PPS – I had a few images saved on the new drive related to this blogpost that I did not have saved elsewhere. They worked ~8 hours before the time of this writing, but after a night’s sleep they seem to be broken in their entirety. Thankfully, that’s all that was broken, but I am now far less satisfied with my newfound piece of hardware than I already had been. A good reminder to always back up one’s stuff, howsoever innocuous!

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