As we cruise the Web everyday, most of us encounter a reCaptcha — those distorted letters and numbers designed to check that a human is behind an online activity like logging into an account or comment system. Lately, users have been seeing a change in the fuzzy text and have seen seeing what looks like real pictures.
reCaptcha (Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart) technology was developed by Carnegie Mellon University, and Google acquired it in 2009. While it has always been clear that it was designed to separate the humans from the bots, many of us may not have been aware that Google uses the technology for other things that just fraud detection.
As the system digitizes text for users to decode, it is also digitizing content from printed materials for Google Books and Google News archives. Feedback from users' behavior while entering the reCaptcha helps refine how content has been digitized
Now Google is using images taken from Street View to do the same kind of verification. Users may see not only street numbers, but also street names or signs as part of their test. As with the text experiments, Google will use user behavior in recognizing the images as a way to improve data fed into Google Maps.
Google confirmed to TechCrunch that the new image testing has been in place for a few weeks, though the sample may not be huge.
Web travelers may have to hunt to find one — and you may be more likely to find them on Google properties such as AdWords where it may have been easier for them to deploy for testing.
Perhaps now we can feel a bit better when squinting our way through a reCaptcha, knowing we are at least helping to refine digital tools.