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Amazon.com Now Bans USB Type-C Cables That Aren't Up To Spec (google.com) 193

Google engineer, Benson Leung has been on a mission to get rid of USB Type-C cables that aren't compliant with Type-C 1.1 spec. He reminds us that these cables could potentially lead to damage. Over the past few months, he has reviewed over a dozen of USB Type-C cables on Amazon.com and concluded that the vast majority of them aren't compliant with the aforementioned standard. Now he reports: Amazon.com has just made a change to their "Prohibited listings" for Electronics. They've added the following line: Any USB-C (or USB Type-C) cable or adapter product that is not compliant with standard specifications issued by "USB Implementers Forum Inc." What does this mean? It means that cable manufacturers who sell poorly made or intentionally deceptive USB Type-C cables and adapters are banned from Amazon, officially. Really great news, but we all have to continue to be vigilant and call out any bad products we find on Amazon and other stores (both online and brick and mortar) as we find them.
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Amazon.com Now Bans USB Type-C Cables That Aren't Up To Spec

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  • Great News? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Luthair ( 847766 ) on Wednesday March 30, 2016 @12:43PM (#51808393)
    Great news would be Amazon white-listing compliant cables, I have a hard time imaging El Cheapo Cables Inc. being overly concerned about a bullet point in the amazon ToS.
    • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

      On the other hand, El Cheapo Cables Inc. might be concerned about losing their ability to sell to Amazon if they keep breaking the ToS. It's not like Amazon gives a crap about one cheap-ass cable maker.

      • Re:Great News? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Luthair ( 847766 ) on Wednesday March 30, 2016 @01:15PM (#51808687)
        El Cheapo Cables Inc. would just call themselves Sir Cheap Cables Inc. and signup again.
        • El Cheapo Cables Inc. would just call themselves Sir Cheap Cables Inc. and signup again.

          Exactly. They'd be a moving target with a series of company names and you'd never know if they were legit or not.

          • Unless you just buy from reputable companies like Anker...

            • There has to be some middle ground between exorbitantly priced mediocre cables and garbage that will burn your house down.

              • http://smile.amazon.com/Anker-... [amazon.com]

                I don't exactly think that $10 is expensive for a USB-C cable, and in fact, all of these cables that are bad are in that ballpark.

                Second Monoprice, but I have never bought something like a USB-C cable from them. (USB-C to C cables peak at 3 A, that is a huge amount of power to put through little cables)

            • Monoprice? or is there a new better option?

            • by swb ( 14022 )

              But how did Anker get to be a reputable company? I'd never heard of them until I bought some highly-rated charger off Amazon. I've since bought a couple other Anker products which have been fine, but overall Amazon is a total bazaar of nearly identical products from dozens of brands you've never heard of.

              I will often buy the Amazon Basics variation if it exists because I feel pretty confident that Amazon has put the effort into making sure it's a decent product and just can't tell about the dozen other va

          • by Shoten ( 260439 )

            El Cheapo Cables Inc. would just call themselves Sir Cheap Cables Inc. and signup again.

            Exactly. They'd be a moving target with a series of company names and you'd never know if they were legit or not.

            Yes, but this is not trivial in terms of either cost or time. For them to have to re-apply to be a vendor on Amazon just to sell cheap cables is probably not worth it.

            There are ways to overcome every possible obstacle that Amazon could throw in their path. The point isn't to produce one that cannot be overcome, but to produce one that is hard enough to keep it from being worthwhile to keep trying.

            • If they cracked down on people selling their cables as "OEM" when they most definitely are not, or the downright counterfeit Apple cables that are sold on the site, things would be much better.

    • Great news would be Amazon white-listing compliant cables, I have a hard time imaging El Cheapo Cables Inc. being overly concerned about a bullet point in the amazon ToS.

      They'll care when Amazon bans them because Benson reported their cable as non-compliant.

    • Great news would be Amazon white-listing compliant cables,

      This would be the ideal solution, but I'm unsure how they'd go about it without testing cables themselves or relying on customer feedback.

      Amazon could certainly afford to test USB cables, but that would also open up a can of worms in that they might then be expected to test other items they sell. I'm pretty sure they don't want to dip their toe in that pool, even for something as simple as a USB cable. It would be great for their customers and the "goodwill" factor, but it'll cost them time and money and th

    • by shubus ( 1382007 )
      So many have been stung by those El Cheapo Cables (me included!) that Amazon's move is most welcome. Now who is testing these cables and telling Amazon whether they meet spec and go on the white lit or don't meet spec and get de-listed?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 30, 2016 @12:44PM (#51808399)

    Slashdot bans postings that aren't up to spec. Like this one.

  • I guess we just need to buy the Amazon brand cables to be sure.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Sneer aside, this is actually a good step in the right direction.

      • Sneer aside, this is actually a good step in the right direction.

        Quoted for agreement. We all expect that if we purchase a USB cable it won't fry our hardware.

        • Unless we buy from Amazon. Then we expect it to fry our computer.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by sexconker ( 1179573 )

          I for one expect a Google engineer who won't shut up about being a Google engineer to not:

          1 - Buy the cheapest, shittiest, "100% Super Plus A-OK" cable from Amazon.
          2 - Use a host device that has shitty USB ports that don't have fuses.
          3 - Repeat the mistake after frying his shit.
          4 - Repeat the mistake again after frying his shit a second time.

          Shitty cables and devices suck, but the real problem is the ports on Intel's boards. On most of them, frying a single port will take out multiple ports, all ports conn

          • If you are buying cables in order to review if they are to spec or not, then it would seem to me you would much rather be able to write the review "It set my computer on fire" than "It failed test 18".

  • Shitty standard (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The better solution would be to get rid of the idiotic standard that requires the cables to have intelligence built in. Put it in the devices where it belongs.

    • Re:Shitty standard (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Austerity Empowers ( 669817 ) on Wednesday March 30, 2016 @12:58PM (#51808531)

      Put it in the devices where it belongs.

      So back in the day when I did motherboard design, the biggest headache we had during our automated testing was USB keys and USB hard disks that had bad FW such that they would randomly disconnect, or otherwise hang up host-side code. MS Windows is least tolerant of this, and would often blue-screen. It seems every generation during our testing we'd get either blue-screens or BIOS lockups with some of these devices, have to go on a 2-3 week crusade of signal integrity analysis and measurements to prove that electrically nothing was wrong. Then inevitably we'd hook up a protocol analyzer and see things that just plain didn't make sense: the disconnects happened for NO reason. They happened with some vendors and not others, or certain devices from one vendor but not others.

      Lots of money spent, lots of time wasted, but it turns out that that cheap overseas shit we all love so much doesn't always work so great. The bottom line is if you are going to have a standard you have to have some way of keeping people from sticking your logo on it if they cannot meet the requirements. It's great this Google engineer took up the mantle of shaming bad products, but the problem is more widespread than mere cables.

      • I agree. I simply don't buy inexpensive electronics from Amazon unless I know the manufacturer and seller now. Which basically means Amazon is no longer a good retailer for inexpensive electronics.

      • The bottom line is if you are going to have a standard you have to have some way of keeping people from sticking your logo on it if they cannot meet the requirements. It's great this Google engineer took up the mantle of shaming bad products, but the problem is more widespread than mere cables.

        The solution would be Trademark Law, perhaps combined with automated testing. The Trademark indicates the source of a product is licensed for use (without a fee or perhaps for a nominal fee that helps cover testing and enforcement) on cables that meet the standard, and if you use the mark on cables or advertising for cables that don't meet the standard you get sued by industry or your imports get held at customs. It would be cheaper than all the time even the industry experts waste dealing with bad cables

        • by msauve ( 701917 )
          "The solution would be Trademark Law,"

          Well, yes, and the USB Implementers Forum, Inc. owns the USB trademarks which are molded into virtually every cable, compatible or not. The problem is they don't work very hard at enforcing its use, and even if they did, trying to enforce it on CCC (Cheap Chinese Crap) would simply be a huge and pointless game of whack-a-mole.
    • by SumDog ( 466607 )

      I kinda have to agree with you on this. Why is USB-C setup so that a bad cable can fry your laptop?

      • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

        If your laptop gets fried, that is the fault of your laptop for not having any over-current protection on the USB power lines. The bad cable just tells the other device that your laptop can provide more power than it actually can.

        • This is it. USB 1 and 2 have had overcurrent protection for a decade. These frying incidents are probably on cheap, consumer-grade laptops that skimped on the protections.

      • Re:Shitty standard (Score:4, Informative)

        by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Wednesday March 30, 2016 @02:45PM (#51809457)

        It's the port design on shitty (Intel, mainly) mobos. They're not individually fused (or fused at all).
        The cable in question simply had the wrong pinout, and threw voltage onto lines that shouldn't have had that voltage.

        You can't physically stop someone from applying potential to your exposed pins, but you can reasonably guard against it. Intel mobos typically don't (or didn't). All the brands people use for building their own (ASUS, GIGABYTE, ASRock, EVGA, MSI, Biostar, etc.) advertised USB (and other) short/spike/etc. protection as a feature years ago when it was becoming a frequent problem.

      • Re:Shitty standard (Score:4, Informative)

        by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Wednesday March 30, 2016 @03:10PM (#51809657)

        USB-C is designed to be able to deliver 100W DC (20A) - brains or not, swapped wires in such a cable is quite likely to be able to fry something. Lots of electronics aren't going to be able to survive up to 20A of current in a reversed polarity, or delivered on a pin that was supposed to be an outgoing signal or voltage.

        In this case it sounds much simpler - and is a problem that could affect standard USB 2 and 3 cables as well: The wrong identifying resistor was included in a C-to-A adapter, making the device think it was plugged into a high-current power source, when the reality was that the USB C port was only able to deliver 2 amps. The resulting current draw then fried the USB port's power source, destroying the port and possibly the connected device.

        A related problem is commonly responsible for slow charging with old-fashioned USB ports: The spec defines a 0.1A maximum current draw unless the device has negotiated for more. But having to talk to electronics makes for expensive wall-warts, so an auxiliary standard was created whereby the port could identify itself as a "dumb charger capable of delivering X amps" by including a ingle resistor, whose resistance was used to specify X within a few tiers, including tiers far in excess of what a "real" USB port can deliver (As I recall USB 2 ports are specced up to ~2A, assuming the connected device successfully negotiates for more than it's default 0.1A. Dumb chargers can be specced up to 5A with the right resistor) Some cables can interfere with that, generally resulting in well-behaved electronics "failing gracefully" and charging at a much slower pace

        Not being versed in the intricacies of type--C lore, it sounds like what probably happened is that adapter cable *should* have identified itself as something like a normal low-current type-A port to connected devices, but instead delivered a garbage resistance that got interpreted as "take all the power you want", and the type-C port just couldn't handle the resulting load.

        • Re:Shitty standard (Score:4, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 30, 2016 @03:52PM (#51809913)
          The max current at any power level is 5A. The 100W spec is 5A at 20V.
          • My mistake. And that just makes things potentially even worse. For the sake of my sanity I'm going to give the designers the benefit of the doubt and assume that higher voltage modes require active negotiation and/or is delivered on completely separate lines. Though the latter would still invite disaster from mis-wired cables - 20V delivered on what should be a low-voltage line, with 5A backing it up...

    • You know, if you swap the two wires on a polarized plug ("double insulated"), you can easily electrocute someone. There's only so much you can do when the wrong thing gets hooked up in the wrong place... You'd need all the circuitry of a switching power supply in every single USB socket.

    • A resistor is now considered intelligence?

    • by skids ( 119237 )

      Seriously what the hell is wrong with USB that they can't reliably push 10Gbps a few feet over a custom-built cable where 10G-BaseT can go hundreds of feet over commonly available standardized CAT-6A UTP cable?

      When 802.3bt starts shipping can we please just get rid of USB entirely?

  • Counterfit Sex Toys (Score:5, Informative)

    by SumDog ( 466607 ) on Wednesday March 30, 2016 @01:05PM (#51808577) Homepage Journal

    Now Amazon needs to deal with their entire counterfeit sex toy problem. If you're not aware, never buy sex toys off Amazon. Most of their products are low quality, counterfeits of more respectable brands. Often they're unsafe or made to low standards. Most manufactures will stop selling to any store that uses Amazon.

    • by Qzukk ( 229616 )

      You mean that 50 gallon drum of lube may not be authentic?!

    • by lgw ( 121541 )

      None of that is specific to Amazon - it's just a shady industry. I'm pretty sure Amazon is now the worlds largest market for sex toys, though, so I'm dubious of your claims about "manufacturers". Heck, I'd make a blind bet that the "counterfeits" are the same items made in the same Chinese factory as the "originals", just sold via someone less scrupulous about defects (that's a very common theme for discount items on Amazon: same Chinese factory, less QA).

    • by dpiven ( 518007 )

      Now Amazon needs to deal with their entire counterfeit sex toy problem. If you're not aware, never buy sex toys off Amazon. Most of their products are low quality, counterfeits of more respectable brands.

      So stop buying refurbs, fer crissakes.

  • Isn't the reason they woiuld be called USB type-C cables; that they meet the "spec" so to speak?

  • Still think USB cables are fun, kids?

  • How to do it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Wednesday March 30, 2016 @01:13PM (#51808661) Journal

    Amazon has gotten better about such things. You no longer have to go through the foreign support people with the forms and scripts. They now have a direct contact for unsafe product issues:

    Note: If your post is about a product you think might be unsafe, please report this information to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) [saferproducts.gov] or contact Amazon directly at product-safety@amazon.com.
    https://www.amazon.com/gp/help... [amazon.com]

    I would add UL (underwriters laboratories) [ul.com] and several others. UL moves a bit slow and reactive instead of proactive, but they certainly are zealous about protecting their brand. Products with their mark, that test out unsafe, will be quickly dropped from Amazon and elsewhere.

    Unfortunately, this doesn't help with all those 2GB USB flash drives from China, which are labeled and firmware hacked to appear to have 64+ gigabytes of usable space.

    • Unfortunately, this doesn't help with all those 2GB USB flash drives from China, which are labeled and firmware hacked to appear to have 64+ gigabytes of usable space.

      You can fix that issue very simply by only buying name brand memory. (Sandisk and Kingston are my most trusted) It's not that expensive, especially considering that you'll actually get what you pay for.

  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Wednesday March 30, 2016 @01:14PM (#51808667)

    What ever happened to consumer protection laws? A product saying it's compliant with the spec but isn't actually? That should get the importer in legal hot water, not just a dot point in a terms of service agreement.

    Shit why don't Amazon go all out and say in their Terms of Service that product descriptions must not contain lies?

    • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

      The correct law for this is trademark law. USB is a trademark. Amazon is probably doing this because the USB Implementers Forum (owner of the mark) threatened them for selling counterfeit goods.

      • Good luck with your trademark lawsuit against a Chinese company operating out of China.

        • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

          Oddly enough, I didn't say anything about suing a Chinese company operating out of China. I said Amazon (not a Chinese company) could be being threatened. As for the Chinese companies, they can be dealt with by Customs. But it is probably much easier and more efficient to just tell Amazon to stop selling that crap.

    • Good luck with those laws when one of the parties is in a country (China) that doesn't give two shits about those laws. Welcome to Globalization, where all laws and standards move to the lowest common denominator and all the wealthy laugh all the way to bank.

  • Now, it would be nice if Amazon banned usb cables that don't actually allow you to charge or connect your Android device to your computer. I've bought so many bum cables on Amazon, it's not funny.

    • The odd thing is that you still shop there.

      • The odd thing is that you still shop there.

        I have a business relationship with those scumbags, so I get a Prime membership. That's the only reason I mess with them at all.

    • by cfalcon ( 779563 )

      I wanted a longer USB 3.0 cable for my external hard drive, so it could be located somewhere not absurd. Three cables later, I just gave up- one didn't work, the other two don't support USB 3.0 speeds. I feel I should be able to choose from a variety of materials, patterns, colors, and still have cables that work- but this is all nonsense. The problem is not just with Amazon, of course- that just makes it harder to return the non-working thing.

      • by tibit ( 1762298 )

        Frankly said, if you're in the U.S. and want USB cables, you buy them from DigiKey, Newark, Mouser, or Allied Electronics. That's it. There's literally no other vendor I'd trust. As far as I'm concerned, these are the only legitimate sources of compliant cables at competitive prices.

    • Buy only Anker cables? They are sold on Amazon, and are very high quality for pretty low prices.

  • Can't a compliant cable be made for $3 in China?

    • by lgw ( 121541 )

      Poke around and you'll notice that there appears to be some minimum price you can sell a cable for on Amazon. I've never seen anything under $5, but if you look for 2-paks suddenly there's a lot in the $5-10 range (so $2.50-5 each). No clue if this is a real Amazon policy or anything, but the pattern is there.

    • Sure it can. And Monster Cables will happily sell them to you for $60.

      Figure, it used to be standard practice for everyone involved in merchandising to add 50-100% to their cost to cover their own expenses and worthwhile profit margins. So say it costs the factory $1 to produce something, they sell it to a merchant for $1.5-$2. Merchant sells it to an importer for $2.25-$4 Importer adds international shipping costs (which I'll ignore) and marks it up to $3.4-$8. Tack on the embedded "free" shipping cost

  • by cptdondo ( 59460 ) on Wednesday March 30, 2016 @01:49PM (#51808997) Journal

    Although I have to wonder about a "spec" or "standard" that allows damage to core hardware if the fricking cable is bad.

    Seriously? What about component failures in the cable as it ages?

    Didn't the engineers think this through?

    This brings me back to the Apple Mac stroke of genius non-standard DB9 serial port when you could short the Mac power supply to ground by plugging in a standard null-modem cable,

    • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

      You seem to be confusing the standard with the implementation. The standard says 'in this mode, you must be able to supply at least x amps of current'. It does not need to specify what happens if something tries to pull more current than that - that is up to the implementation. For the 'damaged hardware' scenario you need a bigger load than the supply can handle (which can happen if the cable lies about how much power can be provided) AND a poor implementation that does not protect itself from over-curre

      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        Easily foreseeable poor implementation choices are certainly the fault of the standard. At the very least the standard could require either safe operation or failsafe in that scenario.

        • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

          Nonsense. The standard is about interoperability. A device protecting itself has nothing to do with interoperability, therefore it does not belong in the standard.

          • by lgw ( 121541 )

            Some standards are about interoperability. Some are about safety. Some are about the ideal dog for that breed. All sorts of things are standards. In this case, it's both a data standard (so, interoperability) and a power standard (so, safety).

    • From the sound of it this isn't the sort of problem a failing cable would be likely to cause. It sounds like they included the wrong resistor in a USB-C-to-A adapter - probably with the result that instead of the cable identifying itself as an adapter cable requiring standard power negotiation, it identified itself as a dumb charger capable of delivering far more power than the port could actually deliver.

      Meanwhile a failing cable will tend to report infinite resistance (open circuit), which I believe indi

  • Amazon Review Link (Score:4, Informative)

    by 31415926535897 ( 702314 ) on Wednesday March 30, 2016 @01:51PM (#51809025) Journal

    This is an important issue to me because I have devices that need good USB-C cables. If anyone else is in the same boat, here's a direct link to Benson Leung's reviews. Focus in on the 5-star ones and look for the value buys (if the product is still available):

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/... [amazon.com]

  • by Streetlight ( 1102081 ) on Wednesday March 30, 2016 @02:00PM (#51809093) Journal
    One of these cheap cables wasn't wired correctly and when Benson connected it to a Pixel C to charge some device (Nexus Phone?), the Pixel was destroyed. Apparently during manufacture two wires in one of the connectors were switched.

    One difference between older USB cables is that the Type C cables contain a 56 k ohm pull up resistor for current control purpose. Some of the out of spec USB C cables with at least one USB Type C plug - probably a USB Type A plug at the other end - have a lower valued resistor and can cause problems. The problem is that if a lower resistance is used with a power supply that can only provide 1 Amp instead of 3 Amps at 5 Volts, the power supply can be fried as it tries to deliver 3 Amps. This could be the case for powered USB ports on computers. I've read that Apple laptops with a Type A compatible connector cannot deliver 3 Amps (1 Amp?) and might be at risk of damage when using an out of spec USB Type C connector cable with the wrong resistor. Further more, these out of spec cables may not be cheap. For more information, check the linked page and scroll down a bit:
    http://www.androidauthority.co... [androidauthority.com]
    • >when Benson connected it to a Pixel C to charge some device (Nexus Phone?), the Pixel was destroyed

      This just indicates the poor quality of the Pixel's USB implementation. In this case, even an external power supply wasn't involved. Just a fucked up cable. So essentially, the Pixel fried itself just because of some shorted pins. I guess companies will keep making sub-standard products as long as idiots keep buying.

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