Geek On The Hill

Another Reason to Hate the Web: CAPTCHA Tests

I’m getting sick of CAPTCHA tests. In fact, I’m getting so sick of them that I’ve closed my accounts at two online merchants in the past seven days for no reason other than their aggressive use of CAPTCHA tests.

By “aggressive,” I mean more than one. I’ll do one. Once in a while, I’ll even do two. Any more than that, and you can kiss my ass goodbye as your customer. I refuse to sit there and pick out pictures of traffic lights, bicycles, and fire hydrants just for the privilege of giving you my money.

It’s really ironic. As a Web developer, I know that the hardest part of making a site a success is getting people to the site in the first place. Throwing obstacles like repeated CAPTCHA tests at a visitor once you have them on your site is, frankly, almost as retarded as are the tests themselves.

The most offensive use of CAPTCHA tests is on sites where there is a login. If I’ve already successfully logged in, then why the hell are you making me prove that I’m human?

If the tests actually worked, then perhaps the CAPTCHA annoyance could be excused. But due to ever more-powerful AI, robots are actually getting better than humans at deciphering CAPTCHA’s, quite possibly because they don’t get annoyed at the vagueries of the tests.

Let’s consider the flaws in the tests themselves for a moment. Five of the more common tasks are to pick traffic lights, bicycles, crosswalks, fire hydrants, or buses from pictures. Sounds easy, right? But is it?

Addressing the first example, what is a traffic light? Do traffic lights include WALK / DON’T WALK lights? Do they include the poles the traffic lights are mounted on? What about the wires running to them? How about an amber light on a school crossing sign? Does that count as a traffic light?

Bicycles are not all that clear, either. Does it include tricycles? Mopeds? Scooters? Segways? How about the rider? Are they part of the bicycle or an appendage to it? Does just a wheel in a bicycle rack count, or does the whole bicycle have to be visible? Or what about a part of a bicycle that’s obscured by a car? We can reasonably surmise that it’s there, but we can’t see it. Does it count?

What about crosswalks? Is a crosswalk only a crosswalk if it has markings, or does it include any path across which people are likely to cross a street? And if a picture shows a street extending into the distance, does it include every street corner at which a crosswalk likely exists, even if we can’t tell because it’s too far? Or do only those crosswalks we can actually see and which are marked as such count?

Fire hydrants present a similar dilemma. The pictures that show nothing other than the hydrant itself are easy. But what about a picture of a long run of street extending to the distance? Presumably there are fire hydrants along the street at intervals defined by the localities’ codes. Should we check every box on the assumption that there must be hydrants along those streets, or only those in which the hydrant is clearly visible?

And then there are the bus questions. What is a bus? Does it include 15-passenger vans? And what about headlights in the distance that might be a bus or might be a truck? How do we deal with those problems?

The way I’m dealing with it is pretty simple: I’m clicking out of sites that ask me for more than one verification of my humanity. Maybe I’ll do two if I’m in an exceptionally good mood that day. Any more than that, and I’ll spend my money elsewhere.

Or to put it more bluntly, if you want to throw obstacles in the way of my giving you my money, then you win. I’ll leave. And some other company will also win because they’ll get the money I was going to spend at your store.


Leave a Reply