Google Releases Consumers From the Scourge of CAPTCHA

Google on Wednesday announced the no-CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA, a kinder, gentler way of distinguishing human Web surfers from bots.

The new system requires that users confirm their humanity by checking a box to the left of the statement “I’m not a robot.” A privacy statement is displayed on the right.

If checking the box doesn’t work, a window containing distorted text will pop up.

“Given how annoying CAPTCHA was, I actually think this is a step in the right direction,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.

Google also unveiled new CAPTCHA technology for mobile users that requires them to match a given image to a gallery of others.

How the No-CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA Works

Google’s latest iteration of its CAPTCHA technology relies on subtle cues, including how users move their mouse to respond to the CAPTCHA box on the screen, artificial intelligence, and advanced risk analysis built into the CAPTCHA technology.

“I know you’re human but tell me so anyway, just because” seems to pretty much sum up this approach, which raised a few hackles when Google first disclosed it in October.

“Interesting, but if the system has already determined that someone is human then why even present the easy captcha?” asked “Jono” in one of many comments in that vein following the October announcement.

The new CAPTCHA might not work quite the way users thought it would, however.

“From what Google has released,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation Staff Technologist Jeremy Gillula, “it appears the new Captcha will work as follows: Google analyzes all sorts of data as you click the ‘I’m not a robot’ checkbox.

“If from that data they’re still not sure whether or not you’re a bot, then they’ll serve you a more traditional CAPTCHA,” he told TechNewsWorld. “So, they don’t know whether or not you’re human until after serving you the first CAPTCHA.”

Google’s All-Seeing Eye

Information collected for the CAPTCHA adds to the massive amounts of data Google already has on users.

Google two years ago announced plans to consolidate information on users across all its services, sparking an outcry among privacy advocates and leading The Washington Post to instruct readers how to close their Google accounts.

“They’ve been collecting information on us for some time,” said Enderle. “This is one of those rare instances when they are using that information to make things easier for us.”

When its Captchas appear on other sites, Google will be able to track users’ movements only over the CAPTCHA widget and not over the entire Web page, Google reportedly said.

“Given the breadth of services they offer, I’m not sure this ‘Chinese wall’ means that much,” Enderle opined.

Privacy Is Not an Issue, Maybe

Google “hasn’t really invented a new threat to privacy here,” Gillula pointed out. “Analyzing keystroke and mouse dynamics for identification is a technique that’s been around for a while.”

Google already can track users from one device to another without the data it will capture through the no-CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA technology, noted Robert Neivert, COO at

“Our mouse movements are just another piece of information among many, and they’re probably not even that significant,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Overall, there are much bigger privacy fights that are important.”

In any event, the company “already has … [user] information and has many other ways to acquire it,” Enderle remarked. “If you were worried about Google getting information about you, it likely is way too late by the time you click on the CAPTCHA widget.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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