Internet advertisers kill text-based CAPTCHA

If you've submitted a comment, signed up for a newsletter, or uploaded a photo to the Internet at any point in the past five years, there's a good chance you're familiar with the CAPTCHA system. CAPTCHAs are the annoying little verification windows that pop up, asking you to decipher a nearly unrecognizable series of letters or words, and Web users have hated them for years. But if these silly security systems make you want to bust your keyboard in half, you'll be happy to hear that we may very well be seeing the last days of the obnoxious, text-based CAPTCHA system, and the next verification system you see online may make you happy to view advertisements for the first time ever.

Rather than taking just a mere glance to figure out, recent studies show that a typical CAPTCHA takes, on average, 14 seconds to solve, with some taking much, much longer. Multiply that by the millions and millions of verifications per day, and Web users as a whole are wasting years and years of their lives just trying to prove they're not actually computers. This has led many companies to abandon the age-old system in favor of something not only more secure, but also easier to use for your average Webgoer: Ad-based verification, which can actually cut the time it takes to complete the task in half.

Now when performing a Web task, such as purchasing event tickets from Ticketmaster, for example, you may no longer be met with a swirling mix of letters and numbers, but instead by an advertisement or common brand logo. Rather than demanding that you decipher a completely pointless combination of fuzzy words, you could simply be asked to recite a well-known company slogan. The security pop-up might even ask you to view an ad image and then type the company's name.

The new system is turning out to be a big time saver for just about everyone, and Web users are typically able to confirm their humanity much faster than with the standard verification tool. New York-based Solve Media—one of the leaders of the ad-based verification revolution—claims the ads it uses for user confirmation take about seven seconds to complete, cutting wasted time in half.

But ad-based verification isn't the only revolutionary idea looking to usurp the standard CAPTCHA's throne. Both puzzle and math-based variations on the tool have also started to gain traction. Puzzle versions of the tool ask you to perform a simple task, like draw a circle around a specific object in an image, while the mathematical option requests that you solve some simple arithmetic. Both of these variants allow you to confirm your humanity without deciphering a garbled string of text, but they lack the revenue-generating capability of the ad-based method. And because of this added monetary bonus of the commercial model, both the puzzle and math verification tools have less of a chance of becoming commonplace.

CAPTCHA—which stands for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart"—first gained prominence in the early 2000s as a way to keep Web forms from being spammed by computer bots. It's impossible to tell how much time Web users as a whole have wasted as a result of the increasingly difficult text strings, but with much simpler alternatives finally beginning to catch on, it appears that the fuzzy text nonsense is finally meeting its end. Advertisements in general are usually seen as a hindrance to daily life, but in this case, ads will actually make your life easier. What a novel concept!

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