Everyone who’s ever purchased something online, created a social media account, or submitted a form to a website has probably torn their hair out at least once after being presented with a tricky CAPTCHA. CAPTCHAs are challenges designed to distinguish between humans and computers, and they usually take the form of distorted text over a busy background. People can generally read the text, but spambots who might be trying to gain access to the network generally can’t.
As spambots have gotten more sophisticated, however, traditional CAPTCHAs have had to keep pace by making text more difficult to decipher – much to the chagrin of users who simply want to purchase concert tickets without having to spend minutes decoding complicated strings of digits. On Wednesday, Google announced an elegant solution to this problem: the company’s reCAPTCHA team announced a new approach that lets users prove they’re human by simply checking a box.
The new CAPTCHA, dubbed the “No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA” presents users with a simple statement: “I’m not a robot.” Click the box next to that phrase, and you’re on your way.
“On websites using this new [system], a significant number of users will be able to securely and easily verify they’re human without actually having to solve a CAPTCHA,” Vinay Shet, the reCAPTCHA team’s product manager, wrote in a blog post. The system is already being used by WordPress, Snapchat, the Humble Bundle, and other sites.
How does it work? No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA relies on clues beyond the simple checkbox. Google can examine a user’s IP address and cookies to verify that a person is, in fact, the same human who has visited other websites in the past. The system also examines the way the user’s cursor moves as it approaches and clicks the box – humans and spambots exhibit different movement patterns that allow Google to tell them apart. No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA also relies on a few other variables that Google is keeping a secret, so as not to allow those who code spambots to circumvent the system.
Google has been testing the new system for about a week, and the company says it has been successful in distinguishing between humans and bots. If the checkbox method doesn’t conclusively identify someone as human, they’ll be asked to take the standard distorted-text test – but 60 percent of WordPress users and 80 percent of Humble Bundle customers have passed the CAPTCHA simply by checking the box.
The one-click method only works for desktop and laptop computers – mobile users will be asked to pass an image-based CAPTCHA (for example, selecting pictures of cats from among a series of animal photos). In either case, however, users aren’t likely to miss the days of squinting at distorted text in order to prove their humanity.