Goodbye CAPTCHA: Just Click a Box to Prove You’re Not a Robot

Google is getting rid of spam bots and annoying squiggly text at the same time

boy and robot
Ian Nolan/cultura/Corbis

One of the most frustrating things you’ll encounter on the modern web are those boxes of squiggly, distorted text you are suppose to decipher to prove you aren’t a spam bot signing up for an email account.

As bots have gotten better at solving them, these CAPTCHAs (Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart) have grown so tricky that they can make you doubt your own humanity—or at least whether it would be that bad if you slammed your keyboard against the desk.

Finally, Google has come up with an alternative solution: the "No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA."

It’s a new API that instead sorts bots from humans by asking us to check a box that says "I’m not a robot." 

Goodbye CAPTCHA: Just Click a Box to Prove You're Not a Robot

This new advance isn't just welcome; it's necessary. CAPTCHAs weren’t really doing their job anymore. Google had already shown that automated programs could read the puzzles with over 99 percent accuracy. Essentially, all CAPTCHAs were doing was roping humans in to identifying house and street numbers in Street View and helping to decode text from scanned books. Worthy pursuits? Sure. But not ones that were cutting back on spam.

The new version has launched on a few sites—Wordpress and Snapchat, for example. It works by tracking clues about how the user interacts with the CAPTCHA box and how they click the checkmark box. It also looks at cookies and IP addresses to sort bots from humans, reports Andy Greenberg for Wired UK

As a back up measure, the old distorted text might pop up for some users. Mobile users won’t see the checkable box, but they could see a grid of pictures and tap the ones that match the clue picture. (For example, you might have to pick out all the kitties in a grid of dogs and cats.) That will also help improve Google’s image search algorithms.

For those of us worried about how much tracking happens online, Google’s CAPTCHA team product manager, Vinay Shet, told Wired UK that they aren’t tracking the user’s movements over the whole page, just the CAPTCHA box. Greenberg writes:

And he argues that captchas are, by their very nature, good for privacy: They provide a way to show you're a good user, rather than an evil bot, without logging in to a service or coughing up identifying details. "You don't have to verify your identity," Shet says, "to verify your humanity."

So apparently the new system has something for both the privacy-conscious and the cat lovers among us. Just not for robots.

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