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Google Acquires reCAPTCHA

 5:47 pm on Sep 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

Google Acquires reCAPTCHA [googleblog.blogspot.com]
Google has acquired reCAPTCHA, a company that provides CAPTCHAs to help protect more than 100,000 websites from spam and fraud.



 6:25 pm on Sep 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

:-( ... It's like adding a spy code to 100K sites instantly..


 6:34 pm on Sep 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

Where's the DoJ and EU anti-trust when you need them? Cannot believe this. First Urchin, now this. Is anything going to remain independent anymore?


 6:40 pm on Sep 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

I read the other day how (apparently) some software can happly read captchas quite well, and this has been going on for a while now.


 6:53 pm on Sep 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

That makes sense. ReCaptcha's aim was to use the captchas to improve algos for ocr technology, kind of self defeating, but I guess there was a bigger picture. I imagine it will now be put to good use scanning books.



 7:30 pm on Sep 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

Google? Scanning books? why would they want to do that?



 8:11 pm on Sep 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

come on Google! Its enough now, Youtube, Orkut, Feedburner, Advertising and now Recaptcha!


 8:15 pm on Sep 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

Now busily removing reCAPTCHA from all our sites. Google has enough beacons already. No need for more.


 8:19 pm on Sep 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

The best captchas are the ones you create yourself. A simple question will most likely suffice (e.g. What color is the sky?). I don't think hackers will waste their time hacking one specific algorithm, or system, unless you have a super popular website. Even then, you can simply rotate the questions.

Another good one is to require a person to enter a specific word that can be found by clicking on a link.

[edited by: sgietz at 8:39 pm (utc) on Sep. 16, 2009]


 8:37 pm on Sep 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

>> What color is the sky

well, today it's a kind of greyish white. and tonight, it'll be black with little white dots. A good captcha question is one with only one right answer ;)

sgietz, I kind of agree, but it depends how sensitive an app is to non-human behaviour. I could reload your page repeatedly until it shows the "sky color" question again. Being able to recognize a string and respond with a corresponding answer is not a turing test.

But that's going off-topic into a discussion that has come up many [webmasterworld.com] times [webmasterworld.com] before [webmasterworld.com].

I'm curious what Google plans to do with Recaptcha. It was designed to digitize books - are they going to leave it as is, or will they enhance it? CAPTCHAs are often used on pages that contain sensitive information. Do you want a hotlinked script to Google on the same page as a registration form? Is it really a beacon that they'll use to sniff out URLs and analytics? Will they keep their noses out of the DOM?

And oh oh oh just wait: next month you're all going to get ads showing in your captcha box. ba-dum-pshh! thank you thank you


 8:45 pm on Sep 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

Well, I may not want smart-ass people like that to register on my site anyway. The appropriate answer would be blue! Hehe, I'm kidding of course. I couldn't come up with a better example, I guess.

It's not perfect, but image captchas are pretty weak these days, and the simple question approach may in fact be better.

A funny captcha I saw was a complex equation on a math forum. I guess that weeds out some bots (and most humans) :)


 9:27 pm on Sep 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

...words come from scanned archival newspapers and old books. Computers find it hard to recognize these words because the ink and paper have degraded over time, but by typing them in as a CAPTCHA, crowds teach computers to read the scanned text.

That is so cool. So, as people solve CAPTCHA's they are also training the software to solve the CAPCTHA's ...

but wait, that means that eventually the software will be able to solve all the CAPTCHA's .oO

hmmm, better start working on the next thing now =)


 9:48 pm on Sep 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

Some of these captchas are so obscured that the user can't crack them. I've been on way too many sites where I had to reload until an image came round that I could read. Hate them and only tolerate them as necessary.

Would Google be getting access to that many more sites? Probably already hooked into them through one tool or another already.

Much more powerful is simply having a Google account and being logged in. Might as well let them install a keystroke logger. That's about all that's missing.

Live tracking of website traffic is one piece of the puzzle. Live tracking of specific users' movements another. Pretty good one-two KO.


 10:54 pm on Sep 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

Hat tip to WebmasterWorld for the post about Google aquiring reCapthcha.

Just removed this brand new spyware from our servers.

While I am happy that reCapthcha owners cashed out and got rich, I am sad that the monopoly that is Google is like a black-hole to smaller unique web companies.


 10:56 pm on Sep 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

Time to move away from reCAPTCHA...
G'Bye you were a good friend,

Infact they had some enterprise plans which were always to be concerned and doubted, they would have definetly grown, but looks like another GOOGLE PLAN !
Feed the kids to raise an ARMY !



 10:58 pm on Sep 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

Wonder how long it'll be until they take this beyond text captchas and use the newly available human computing power to improve Google Image Search through integrating something like this [images.google.com...] with reCAPTCHA.


 11:06 pm on Sep 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

isnt this quite boring ?
Instead, a few more PRON sites have better options to rank from 1 to 10 AND/OR some additional rating mechanisms which gives non-savvy/non-tecchy users direct acess to click

(users are lazzy to type ;))

Robert Charlton

 6:33 am on Sep 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

A big part of this story for me is that Luis von Ahn, the co-founder of reCAPTCHA, is now working for Google.

Wonder how long it'll be until they take this beyond text captchas and use the newly available human computing power to improve Google Image Search through integrating something like this [images.google.com...] with reCAPTCHA.

von Ahn was, I believe, the inventor of the ESP Game, which is licensed by Google and is in fact used as the core of Google Image Labeler... so it's already integrated.

...newly available human computing power...

I'm guessing that von Ahn's expertise in this area is a good part of the reason that Google bought the company. von Ahn gave a Google TechTalk in July, 2006, on the subject of "Human Computation". It's available on Google Video....

Human Computation [video.google.com]
Google Video
51:31 TRT

The video struck me at the time I saw it as providing lots of clues about how Google looks at things...

anyone played Google Image Labeler game yet?

...I think that many of the principles of identification involved are being used by Google in lots of areas... in everything from Google Co-Op and Custom Search Engines to Google's assessment of link anchor text....


 7:30 am on Sep 17, 2009 (gmt 0)


The next move will be to move the recaptcha server name to recaptcha.google.com

The implication of this of course is that it creates a google domain cookie so that it can serve as a super cookie.

The readers here will recognise that this is the way cookies are designed to work. As long as they mark it with /, then the one cookie can be used to track across search, gmail, adsense, adwords, and any page featuring a recaptcha

With the right javascript, it will be possible to identify down to which comment belongs to which cookie. It is then trivial to scrape the comment, and the sitename/email address attributed to that comment and associate them with a particular cookie and machine. Come to think of it, javascript is not required if the page is scraped often enough to note differences over time correlated with issuance of the recaptcha + super cookie.

If you then login to your adwords, adsense, gmail account from another machine, the correlation can be updated.

See how deep this goes?

All blogs that use recaptcha will see some reduction in postings as privacy aware visitors decide not to comment. They may even see a decline in traffic from people who just don't want to be indexed as visitors.

The drop might be tiny, but it would be nice if it was more like falling off a cliff.

Remember the google cookie expiry in 2037?


 8:50 am on Sep 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

What color is the sky

How about what color is the blue sky?


 9:59 am on Sep 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

How about what color is the blue sky?
Actually, the sky is colorless. Its the refraction and scatternig of the blue light that creates the illusion that the sky is blue. You may test it out at night.

 12:37 pm on Sep 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

How about what color is the blue sky?
Actually, the sky is colorless. Its the refraction and scatternig of the blue light that creates the illusion that the sky is blue. You may test it out at night.

If I ever have to answer a CAPTCHA with an answer like that I'm leaving the internet...

But on topic - I got a feeling this will be more closely related to identifying images rather than Google spying on everyone who completes a CAPTCHA, unless they place ads within CAPTCHA's!


 1:52 pm on Sep 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

How much money is there in these spam registrations?


 4:18 pm on Sep 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

>> How much money is there in these spam registrations

potentially a lot, or nothing. They're worth nothing themselves, but they can be worth something as a means to accomplish something else.

like say, using a script to open ten thousand hotmail accounts to use as spam delivery agents. How much money is in it depends on what they're selling, how much they're spamming, how well people respond to the mailout.

I suppose someone might crack a CAPTCHA to do some vandalism, but that's an odd scenario


 6:39 pm on Sep 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

Well, I'm using a textbox and asking people to enter five numbers. Would be easy to crack that one, but it has eliminated most spam.


 7:47 pm on Sep 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

OK, assume I'm non-technical, not a webmaster, and have no clue about anything. Can someone please explain in layman's terms why Google bought this company, what it will allow them to do, and what the business/revenue implications are for Google and it's advertisers?




 8:42 pm on Sep 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

I don't think we can say for sure. Im my earlier post I hinted that Google may be able to make use of some of recapta's research. The Recaptcha project had a rather strange goal. To learn from user input. By doing so it was able to carry out research towards developing solutions that could electronicaly read text that had been damaged, or had the effects of ageing.

Google scan a lot of books as part of Google Books, a lot of the books they scan are very old, and will have damage, perhaps the work of the Recaptcha project will be of assistance to improve the algos that drive their OCR technology.

There is however a lot of other theories. Being able to track users is one of them. One thing that might be very importaint is the ability to follow a user through a captcha code and see what they do afterwards. Say a user is posting a comment on a blog, they have to get past the captcha first. By being able to work out what user places what comments Google will be able to work out quite a lot about the user and possibly ue this data to display more personalised advertising.



 10:21 pm on Sep 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

How much money is there in these spam registrations?

Less and less, if the way WebmasterWorld members are jumping ship is at all representative.

I don't know whether this is about scanning books or tracking users, but there's another possibility: using the captcha to ask "is this spam?", or "is this true?" in the case of a statement. Something like Microsoft's Page Hunt, except cut down to a captcha size.


 1:07 pm on Sep 18, 2009 (gmt 0)

I think a lot of these captcha algorithms are pretty neat (although not nearly as neat as the ones designed to hack them), but there is no one size fits all. There is a captcha 22 :) with the better ones. They become popular, and then they get hacked. We need to get down to basics with form verification and implement our own. The hackers will always be catching up, but this way they have to catch up to a massive number of captchas, not just the usual suspects.

Google's idea of rotating images is interesting, but completely absurd. I won't put my visitors through that. I think if we all sat down and really thought about it, we would come up with ingenious (and ridiculously simple) ways to filter out bots.


 3:05 am on Sep 19, 2009 (gmt 0)

BTW, if Google is so hot on recaptcha and so hot on combating click fraud, why not put a recaptcha on every ad :D

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