CES Worst in Show 2023: Portability, Privacy, and Pee Waste, Oh My
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CES Worst in Show 2023: Portability, Privacy, and Pee Waste, Oh My

Every year, electronics manufacturers gather at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to announce their new upcoming gizmos—and for the third time, iFixit has teamed up with our advocacy friends to call out some of the most troubling trends at the show. The third annual Worst In Show awards were held Friday, to shine a spotlight on the least repairable, least secure, and least sustainable products showcased at CES 2023. 

While many of these wacky products never get off the ground, enough take flight that it’s worth calling out the less savory offerings.There are potentially serious consequences to the mass adoption of our top picks. Much like Sin City itself, the pretty exteriors of these products hide some pretty pernicious quirks.

This year’s judges included experts from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Consumer Reports, SecuRepairs, JerryRigEverything, Public Interest Research Group, Repair.org, and (of course) iFixit.

When considering the next electronics disaster we ask ourselves:

  1. How useless is this product?
  2. Are the problems with this gadget a new innovation in awfulness?
  3. What is the global impact if the technology is widely adopted?
  4. How much worse is it than previous iterations of similar technology?
  5. How much do the negatives outweigh any positives?

The 2023 CES Wall of Shame

Image: Withings

A Toilet Seat that Could Get You Arrested

Privacy Award – Withings U-Scan

First up, Cindy Cohn of the Electronic Frontier Foundation selects the Withings U-Scan, a toilet add-on that promises to analyze your pee. There’s a lot of potential data in your pee, enabling early detection of diseases and menstrual cycle tracking.

But as Cohn points out, pregnancy data needs to be treated with extra privacy care in the United States.

One thing that everybody needs to ask themselves…is this company selling something to me, or are they selling me to other people? 

– Cindy Cohn, Executive Director, Electronic Frontier Foundation

In a post-Roe United States, law enforcement agencies could demand data from health-tracking apps. The Withings privacy policy promises the security of your data, except where they “may be obligated by mandatory law to disclose your personal data to certain authorities”—which is precisely Cindy’s concern.

Once upon a time, getting something for free meant you were the product, but increasingly, even purchased things sell you downstream—pun intended. Without a robust privacy policy that protects pee data from prying government eyes, this device is a privacy fail.

Peak Subscription with a Side of Hacking

Security – Roku Smart TV

Cybersecurity expert Paul Roberts of SecuRepairs picks the new Roku Smart TV. Roku has previously made smart TV software that runs on other manufacturers’ hardware, but now they’re getting into the hardware game themselves. Considering Roku’s past documented and exploited vulnerabilities, Paul is not excited about their entry into the hardware space. 

A Consumer Reports analysis found that devices running the Roku TV platform had glaring security flaws. According to engineer Eason Goodale, “Roku devices have a totally unsecured remote control API enabled by default…It’s less of a locked door and more of a see-through curtain next to a neon ‘We’re open!’ sign.” 

Paul notes that Roku has not published anything whatsoever about steps taken to mitigate the serious flaws in past iterations of software. The new line of TVs is being sold with a hands-free voice controlled remote, which means it’s always listening—all the problems of Alexa, without any history of solving security problems that arise.   

This wireless television demands four large lithium-ion batteries.

If Only TVs Made More E-Waste

Environmental Impact – Displace Window TV

Shanika Whitehurst of Consumer Reports picks the Displace Window TV, a wireless TV that can be stuck onto any smooth surface like a wall or window. The catch? It runs on four giant lithium-ion batteries. As she rightly points out, those batteries still need to be plugged into a wall outlet to recharge. 

Sure, it might look cool to have a wire-free TV on your window. But it won’t look so cool when those batteries empty and your TV falls off the window. 

And it definitely won’t seem as cool when the cost of giant lithium-ion batteries skyrockets with lithium shortages starting in 2025, or when you have to go add your giant TV batteries to the 80 metric kilotons of batteries the US is expected to send to e-waste in 2030. 

Image: MacRumors

A Mug that Only Lasts as Long as Its Battery

Repairability – Ember 2+ Mug

iFixit’s Kyle Wiens picks the latest iteration of the Ember Mug, the Ember 2+. This is a thermos mug that will set you back a couple of benji’s so you can…keep your drink warm? In the latest iteration, they’ve added a potentially dubious tracking capability to help find your expensive mug if you lose it. 

But don’t count on this mug lasting you more than a couple of years, because it’s got an embedded clump of lithium-ion pouch cell batteries and no plan for replacing them. After 300 or so uses, that battery will lose its mojo—if it doesn’t get too spicy before then.

Why do we have to embed batteries into everything? It’s ridiculous.

—Kyle Wiens, iFixit CEO

Repairable products consider the eventual need to replace batteries, and they’re built to make that easy. Your favorite battery-free vacuum flask can keep your tea hot all day without unnecessary lithium-ion in an unrepairable design.

The JBL Tour Pro 2 wireless earbuds

Take an Unrecyclable Tragedy, Add Unnecessary Screens

Community Choice – JBL Wireless Headphones

Zack Nelson, host of our favorite durability testing YouTube channel JerryRigEverything, picks the JBL wireless headphones. 

What I wish I could see at CES [is that] companies take a step back for a second and be like ‘maybe we don’t need yearly updates’ and wait 2 years or 3 years and release a bomb product. 

—Zack Nelson, YouTube Host, JerryRigEverything

We couldn’t agree more. Taking a highly problematic product with unrepairable embedded lithium batteries and slapping on a mini-LCD that poses further repairability problems is clearly not the bomb product we’re looking for. This literally adds nothing that our phones don’t already do—and smartphone pairing is by far the most prevalent use case for wireless earbuds. No one’s using these things on their first gen iPod and wishing they could access a touch display.

A Nourished-3D printed nutrition 'stack.' Photo via Nourished.
Yum, Skin Gummies.

“Who Asked For This?” – Neutrogena SkinStacks

“We need to hold terrible ideas accountable” says Nathan Proctor, National Right to Repair Campaign Director at the Public Interest Research Group. His pick, the Neutrogena 3D vitamin gummy printer, is a true head scratcher. 

What kind of person, upon surveying the nutritional supplement market, thinks to themselves: this needs to be more of a racket. Why just sell vitamins when you can also add proprietary refills and biometric data harvesting? 

—Nathan Proctor, National Campaign Director, PIRG

Why indeed. For once, the US isn’t paving the way for mass market adoption of this particularly poorly thought-out idea. The UK is steamrolling along with what I might describe as a primer on how badly a company can prey on people’s fears and anxieties.

Overall Worst In Show – Withings U-Scan

Gay Gordon-Byrne, Director of Repair.org says, “There were some really good candidates…and for me, I really think the worst in show is actually that Withings pee reading toilet.”

As Gay notes, this is a service that we would get when we visit our doctors anyway, so for the general population, it’s not going to be particularly useful. And yet, we have a device that, if it ever reaches mass adoption, poses serious privacy risks not only in the ether but also within the home. The device is able to differentiate between the urine of different subjects. Aside from the potential to invade the privacy of those you share a roof with, what happens when one of these devices collects data from a visiting guest?

Where to from Here?

While we continue to see genuinely useful innovation in the world (OneThird deserves a shout-out: go check out their method to reduce food waste in the supply chain), the majority of what we see coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show continues to ride on the increasingly dire habit of endless consumption. 

CES’s theme this year may have been human security with an eye towards sustainability, but the showroom floor was nothing more than business as usual as far as I could tell. Which unfortunately means that we’ll be back next year with another Worst In Show.