Google Webmasters: reCAPTCHA: Tough on Bots, Easy on Humans

Wilful Surveillance

Online Behaviour Monitoring Proves We Are Not Bots

March 30, 2017, Marianna Mäki-Teeri

Google has developed a user-friendly way to distinguish people from harmful software bots. For over a decade website visitors needed to prove being a human by clicking a checkbox or solving simple challenges called Captchas. Google’s evolved service, invisible reCAPTCHA, can now perform the check-up automatically by recognising humans based on their online behaviour. This is yet another algorithmic surveillance we wilfully submit to.

Google has revealed that the Invisible ReCAPTCHA recognises bots with help of machine learning and advanced risk analysis. Their system invisibly follows the browsing habits of an individual to determine if the website visitor is a human or not. If the system suspects that it has caught a bot, it will perform a double-check by giving the suspicious visitor similar CAPTCHA-tasks used before.

The motivation behind catching harmful bots is to improve online security as these automated software attackers are often behind website abuses and spam. Although, an individual avoids the hassle of ticking “I’m not a robot” checkbox or solving picture puzzles, the invisibility of the system comes with a trade-off of being wilfully monitored.

Many of us are happy to give away part of our privacy to enjoy better and secure web services, but as noted by Lisa Vaas in her article, some people find the direction of Google’s advancements disturbing. The first reason is the general distrust in the invisible tracking of our online behaviour, the second is the fact that Google is the actor behind these advancements which can lead the company gaining even greater power over the Internet, if they are the ones controlling which bots are allowed to crawl websites. Not all the bots are used for abusive or illegal purposes, some of them are utilised to search for useful information.


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