Advocacy group wants Google to rethink CAPTCHA

Asia-Pacific, February 6 2014

An Australian Not for Profit consumer advocacy organization has accused Google of not meeting its mission to make online information ‘universally accessible’ by making its reCAPTCHA service fully accessible.

Kill CAPTCHAreCAPTCHA, which Google acquired in 2009, is an online test made up of fuzzy numbers and letters which is designed to verify that you are a human rather than a computer-controlled bot. reCAPTCHA is currently used by over 200,000 websites but is blocking millions of users who are blind or low visionĀ  from accessing these sites because their screen reading software can’t read CAPTCHA tests and the audio alternatives can rarely be deciphered.

“Google is one of the world’s biggest online innovators, so we are calling on them to be industry leaders by making reCAPTCHA accessible for everyone,” said Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) CEO Teresa Corbin. “It is Google’s mission to be ‘universally accessible’ and this is an ideal way for Google to achieve this laudable goal,” said Ms Corbin.

CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) tests are often used when signing up for a new online account, commenting on blogs or even accessing some government services. Google provides an accessible mobile phone verification when signing up for a new Google account, but this option or any other accessible options, are not mandated with their reCAPTCHA service.

The World Wide Web Consortium, an international community which develops web protocols and guidelines, has declared CAPTCHA inaccessible. Additionally, the reliability of CAPTCHA tests as a security tool has been put into question by software company Vicarious, who claim to be able to solve CAPTCHA with greater than 90% accuracy.

ACCAN says accessible alternatives to CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA include an email verification or software such as Honeypot.

The Google-owned reCAPTCHA differs slightly from normal CAPTCHAs, as every completed reCAPTCHA helps Google digitize the world’s collection of printed books.

“While we acknowledge the many benefits reCAPTCHA brings in digitizing print books, it effectively considers people who are blind or low visionĀ  as non-human and excludes them from many online activities. This is simply unacceptable,” said Ms Corbin.

ACCAN and other Australian disability organizations launched a “kill CAPTCHA” petition in August which has received over 3500 signatures from around Australia and other countries including the US, UK, Canada, Germany, Cambodia, South Africa, Ireland and Slovakia, to name a few. The petition asked the CEOs of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, Twitter, Yelp, and Facebook to make CAPTCHAs accessible, or provide an accessible alternative.

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