Google's reCAPTCHA improves the CAPTCHA verification process

Martin Brinkmann
Dec 3, 2014
Updated • Jan 4, 2018
Companies, Google

I hate CAPTCHAs, I really do. Those "verify that you are really a human and not a bot" widgets that Internet users encounter regularly when they sign up for new services, fill out comment forms or perform other activities on the Internet.

The main issue that I have with the whole CAPTCHA technology is that they slow me down considerable. Not only do I have to decipher characters, it happens that you enter the wrong characters because the CAPTCHA is not clear enough.

Plus, I know that I'm human which makes it seem ridiculous to prove that I'm.

Google announced today the launch of reCAPTCHA, a new take on verification systems on the Internet. Good news is that the company has done away with the identification and entering of characters for the most part.

All you need to do is check a box to pass the verification and proceed with whatever you are doing. The majority of users should be able to pass the test this way which speeds things up considerably for them.

The script does a risk analysis in the background and if it drops below a certain percentage, asks the user to still fill out text to proceed.

This works similar to regular CAPTCHAs on today's Internet. An image is displayed with characters on it that you need to enter to proceed. It is possible to refresh the image to get new characters or listen to the characters being pronounced instead.

The API that Google makes available is flexible. It is for instance possible to display different verification types optimized for mobile users. You could be asked to select all images that match the image shown to you for example which may be easier to do than having to enter characters on your mobile device.

Google has created the reCAPTCHA API which webmasters and businesses can implement. Select third-parties, WordPress or Snapchat for example, have tested the new reCAPTCHA already and according to Google, have seen great results.

A plugin is already available for self-hosted WordPress blogs to add reCAPTCHA to the comment and registration process.

Closing Words

I'm all for improvements in the field as I find CAPTCHA verification widgets annoying, and especially so on sites that don't really require them at all.

I have left registration or commenting processes on numerous sites because of CAPTCHA widgets, for instance if it did not work right or if it was simply to difficult to get right.

While Google's efforts are commendable, it won't resolve the CAPTCHA issue on today's Internet in the near future. It is good to see that popular services are making use of it though.

Now You: What is your take on CAPTCHAs?

Google's reCAPTCHA improves the CAPTCHA verification process
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Google's reCAPTCHA improves the CAPTCHA verification process
Google announced reCAPTCHA today, a new API that website owners and businesses can make use of to improve user verifications.

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  1. Martin said on July 24, 2015 at 10:34 am

    Being a regular reader of this wonderful website, I am obviously of higher intelligence. Yesterday I had to validate my application for a website by saying how many times the letter n appeared in the word “mining” . I kept typing ‘one’. Every time I pressed enter it deleted my new password and my country of origin. I must have tried it 20 times before I realised that mining has the letter n twice.

  2. Martin said on July 24, 2015 at 10:32 am

    Several years ago I remember reading an article about how validation on websites would be done by getting users to transcribe a couple of words from a photograph of a historical document, that needed transcribing. It seems such a brilliant idea. Whatever happened to that?

  3. Waste said on May 4, 2015 at 5:58 pm

    Recaptcha seems to be paranoid regarding captchas and bots. Not only they waste huge amount of time (of users, who are urged to type letters like 1st grade starters) – they even don’t accept correct captchas, and think that real people can enter several correct captchas too fast :) Actually real robot is recaptcha (including those who create it, because they think like robots, not people)

  4. Paul said on December 5, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    I’m an almost blind user employing screen reader software (JAWS and System Access) to navigate the internet and otherwise use the PC. Many of these captcha are annoying at best and impossible at worst – when webmasters only have a visual offering with no audio alternative. One of the worst aspects I find is certain sites where you register with a userid & pw but then even AFTER having successfully logged in you are still required to enter one or more captcha to perform certain functions. Any alternatives should bear in mind accessibility for blind or visually impaired users so selecting 2 images that match, for example, would be useless for us.

  5. Tom Hawack said on December 4, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    I read once that some hyper-skilled robots were able to defeat low-level CAPTCHAs. If this is true (is it?) then they have an advantage over humans in the area of those CAPTCHAs, even if I doubt they’d be authorized to enter a select club. Maybe one day, who knows, robots having made their way into our everyday lives shall we see on some entrances “For humans only”. Cyber-racism on its way?!

  6. Uhtred said on December 4, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    I find the captcha things annoying, depends on site though, some sites tend to be easier to work out than others.
    Working on small screen most the time, I have an extra mouse button given over to a magnifying glass function. They’re a lot less hassle to complete when you can see them close up.

  7. GR555345 said on December 4, 2014 at 11:24 am

    More like a relaunch of reCAPTCHA (note the new logo), this time by Google. The full name of the new API is “No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA.”

  8. Pants said on December 4, 2014 at 2:52 am

    I don’t mind captchas as a mechanism to slow/stop bots/spam etc. And there are different levels that each site can use. Used in the right situation at the right settings and it can be a useful tool. That said … go search for captcha penis poisoning :)

    What I do not like is yet another google service that adds yet more points of data for them to aggregate. I have not looked at reCAPTCHA in any depth yet, but nothing is for free, there will be some trade-off.

  9. Daron said on December 4, 2014 at 12:34 am

    If the image is a “graphic” how is it possible for a bot to capture it?
    my question is. if the “graphic” is clear it does NOT matter if bot trolls the net.
    because it is a “graphic” picture which renders it not text readable from the bot
    so why not make the “graphic” readable for everyone
    there is no need to make it barely readable.

    1. Uhtred said on December 4, 2014 at 1:02 pm

      I’m not sure if anyone has done this yet but would have thought as images are data. The bot software would need to recognise password gate and download image data, internally reconstruct/draw/render image, then use an object recognition software to identify characters on internal virtual image…. processing all that very quickly to avoid site timeouts, and then enter text…

  10. rickxs said on December 4, 2014 at 12:16 am

    Ahhha they do a risk analysis on me an anonymous user?,
    I don’t save cookies ,flash cookies , block widget’s -midget’s- fidgets
    do not use Gmail,- don’t do anything with Google~~~~~~ but then, maybe they own the net
    is Martin actually real & not a Essen Google droid
    I do not think this is over the top thinking
    My Doctor has told me I’m paranoid.
    I wonder who else he’s told.

  11. Ken Saunders said on December 3, 2014 at 11:35 pm

    I have a visual impairment and always hated them too and the audio option usually isn’t much better. Especially the ones that have kids saying the characters with other kids and noise in the background.
    It sounds like a twisted horror movie.

    A few years ago, I watched some sort of Internet documentary and learned something interesting about reCAPTCHA.
    From Wikipedia. The latter part of the sentence is the interesting part.
    “By presenting two words it both protects websites from bots attempting to access restricted areas and helps digitize the text of books.”

  12. Rick said on December 3, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    For WordPress, Joomla, PHP, Drupal, and a few others, I find that readers of one of my blogs seem to like

    You drag and drop the ‘correct picture’ to answer a question.

    The type-a-code was hugely unpopular and even at a distortion of 0, readers that would have been moderated stopped commenting.

  13. Tom Hawack said on December 3, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    The script does a risk analysis in the background and if it drops below a certain percentage, asks the user to still fill out text to proceed.”
    Risk analysis. On what basis? Perhaps does Google know so much about so many users, about so many IPs that a database is put to contribution, or maybe does the api check the user’s history, cookies? No idea. A thought for those who will never know they will have been analyzed as being a human at 51% (or whatever limit +1%). Oh brother.

  14. Tim said on December 3, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    CAPTCHA’s should’ve been boycotted out of existence years ago. Even with full working vision I have difficulty reading them, so I dread to think what it’s like for the visually impaired.

  15. Tom Hawack said on December 3, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    Well, I think this article reflects my own thoughts concerning captchas. I know every one may have different feelings but, frankly, I cannot imagine anyone not being annoyed by this parasite. I guess we all more or less agree on the necessity to combat bots, that is when the site’s content legitimates this annoyance which is not always the case as stated in this article.

    I have as well made a u-turn more than once from an obsessional captcha control. A real pain, especially when not required. I remember, irritated at the most, clicking systematically for a new captcha for a minute or so… just for a relief before moving off.

    So if a company decides to reduce the pain it’s of course a good thing, even if we all know that there is no such thing as an unhappy customer to damage a business and that business knows it.

  16. InterestedBystander said on December 3, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    Agree… while I seldom actually fail to decipher a CAPTCHA, it’s sometimes iffy — 1 or lowercase L or uppercase i? Is it an S or a 5? A minor annoyance, and it sounds like Google has recognized the problem, and done a little bit to ease the pain.

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