Monday, May 25, 2009

Yet Another Rant About Recaptcha

Imagine a stranger came up to you and said: "I am going to install this switch in your house.

"Now every time you want to turn on your light you will have to click the switch twice, not once like before--then the light will come on. Oh, and sometimes if you don't move around enough the light will spontaneously go off and you will have to switch it on again. And I will gradually change all of the light switches in your house to this system, and perhaps the garbage disposal and garage door operator too.

And he adds apologetically, "sometimes you won't flick the switch in quite the right way. But that is okay, just doing it again and it should eventually work."

Now you might ask why the hell he is going to do this. And he might say, "oh, mostly we will harness this energy and use it to good things like provide power to poor people. But some undisclosed amount of the time we will just use it to make some money. And I am going to keep the money. But we have convinced the power company to require you to use these switches, so you really do not have any choice."

How would you feel about that?

Because you know those recaptcha field where you type in two words? One of those word is a security precaution, the other is you digitalising a scanned document for someone else. And at least some pf the time that someone else is a commercial entity like the new York Times who "paid an undisclosed sum to von Ahn's CMU team to complete its project."

Recaptacha is portrayed as being so clever because it uses a worthless and wasted resource (our time) to make something valuable (money for them). First it was on Wordpress, and Craiglist, then Today.com, now Shutterstock. Companies are taking the easy road of giving away their contributors' and customers' time for a cheap security option. Cheap to them that it, as is usual the workers end up bearing the cost in units of a few second here and there throughout their day. But to the tune of decoding millions of words per day--both for the public good and for profit.

And nobody seems to mind? Is it because
* Young white men from universities must be obeyed?
* We truly think our time is worthless?
* Typing barely legibly word is fun?
* We like saving large commercial companies money?

Just say no to Recaptcha. In this economy companies should hire people to fix their security and the New York Times can get my labor for free when they post the resulting archives on the open internet, also for free. Until them the digital proletariat need to protest, not thank "the man" for exploiting them.

4 comments:

David Tulloch said...

Question for you ... if the second word is a scan (and you know it is the second word) then is there any check to see that it is typed correctly? Couldn't you just type it wrong?

Christina the coffee lady said...

I hate recaptcha! It drives me batty!

Emily Veinglory: said...

If I think I can spot the non-security word I type "slave" instead of the word ;)

jeff said...

"Just say no to Recaptcha. In this economy companies should hire people to fix their security"

Precisely the opposite. In this economy companies should conserve as much money as possible to wade out the recession. Spending is not good for the economy, war is not peace, and keynesian economics doesn't work.

Saving drives production, not worthless spending. A free captcha service that figured out a way to become profitable is genius, and moves the collective ball forward. Now developers (like me), no longer have to worry about implementing captcha, and it saves a small amount of bandwidth too. This is economic progress.