Photo Credit: Cloudflare
Squinting at garbled text, trying to making sense of small images and square boxes, or simply clicking on a checkbox to confirm you're a human and not a bot, ‘CAPTCHA' is part and parcel of our daily Internet browsing experience. The purpose of CAPTCHA, or Completely Automated Public Turing Challenges, is to boost the security of online services, but the annoying verification process is something most of us would love to do away with. Now, a recent study by web infrastructure and security company Cloudflare has shown that people around the world waste 500 human years every single day while trying to prove they are not spam bots.
The study stated that an average user spends 32 seconds to complete a CAPTCHA challenge and estimated the time by doing a simple math for 4.6 billion global Internet users. In a blog post, Cloudflare says it's idea is simple: “A real human being should be able to touch or look at their device to prove they are human, without revealing their identity.”
CAPTCHAs were created at the turn of the century and the term was coined in 2003. Over the years, simple text-based CAPTCHAs were replaced with objects-in-pictures as artificial intelligence tools improved. The improvements in AI meant that people were able to create bots that could defeat the simpler CAPTCHA tests of the past — but that means that these checks are getting harder and harder for real people to do as well.
CAPTCHA has been used as a training tool for AI as well — Google's reCAPTCHA for example is observing human behaviour to let people pass through the tests, but as machine learning gets better at recognising text and objects, it becomes harder for people to pass the tests.
And this is a problem, because complicated CAPTCHA costs us in a number of ways, as Cloudflare noted in its blog. As it noted, time lost is productivity lost, and there are also questions about accessibility that come from relying on CAPTCHA systems.
But that's not the only issue — as anyone living in India will attest, many of the questions that come up in reCAPTCHA rely on knowing things from America, like what a fire hydrant is — something that most Indians have not seen in real life. But that's not the only issue. Most Indians also access the Internet only through mobile devices, and not only are CAPTCHAs more difficult on small screens, but they also put a strain on data plans and batteries.