A CAPTCHA’d Audience

My thesis for today is that Google’s CAPTCHA facility ranks up there as one the worst thought-out pieces of garbage on the Internet.

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How am I supposed to know whether this banner says “No parking” or “Long live the victory of Mao Tse-Tung Thought?”

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This sign identifies a local park. It’s a government sign, to be sure, but is is a “street” sign?  It doesn’t control traffic. It doesn’t identify the name of a roadway. It doesn’t provide directions to somewhere. I can’t even tell if it’s on a street—it looks pretty far off the asphalt to me.

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Oh oh. This one’s not even a government sign. It’s made to be seen from the street, to be sure, but it’s not actually on a street. Do I count it, or do I pass entirely?


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And how much of a “street sign” is a “street sign?” Do I count the pole? This is an interesting question, because I’ve both selected and not selected the pole, and in both cases Google has proceeded to give me additional tests, as if I had somehow failed this one. (“Inconsistent feedback” is one of the stress techniques used in psychological coercion. Is that any way not to be evil, Google?)



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This one is just classic. Google purposely blurs images of people, residences, license plates, text, and other items algorithmically for legal reasons, and also on specific request. While Google’s left hand is doing that, its right hand is apparently feeding these blurred images into their awful CAPTCHA product. So we’re left to wonder if that blob in the upper left corner is a store front, a movie marquee (which I guess is still a store front, right?), a semitrailer, or a street sign that somehow wandered into the wrong CAPTCHA.


Seriously—how does a “product” with such a poor human interface survive in the market? Maybe because it has a builtin captive audience.

As it turns out, all the poor buggers who created their blogs on Google’s Blogger service have exactly one choice of CAPTCHA product to keep from being buried in comment spam. That choice is either to use this Google abortion, or to expend extreme effort to re-host their blogs on a more free-market service. Google doesn’t offer these people any better choices (because what could possibly be better than a Google product, right?)

I should point out that this very blog, hosted by WordPress, uses a “non-CAPTCHA CAPTCHA feature” that over many years has successfully rejected 100% of comment spam flung at it. Commenters don’t have to take quizzes or solve problems—it just works.

So Google, if you can’t manage not to be evil, at least try to manage not being absurd.

[Addendum, 2019-03-01]

This CAPTCHA really tickled my fancy.

Google wouldn’t let me proceed until I conceded that a drainage culvert security grating was in reality a staircase.

I guess 2 + 2 really does equal 5, Big Brother! I surrender!


This entry was posted in This is Broken and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A CAPTCHA’d Audience

  1. Chuck Tomlinson says:

    Absolutely, especially the requirement to take another test and another test and another test when you KNOW you aced the previous ones. Each test says, “Please try again”, like it was you who screwed up. At some websites, I’ve been asked to take up to five tests in a row before they decide I am “not a machine”. MADDENING! Google sucks!

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