An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

July 24, 2010

Captchas: Making Doubt my Humanity, One Blog Comment at a Time

Filed under: funny — Tags: , , — Ethan @ 9:38 pm

The other night, I went out to a very fabulous birthday party for my very faaabulous teen-era BFF. Let’s just say there was a lot of celebrating, and I wound up catching a ride home with more, er, competent friends a couple hours before dawn.

For reasons that now entirely elude me, I began issuing my standard rant about captchas,  those distorted-text blocks you have decipher to fill in all over the internet to prove you’re not a spam bot. My kind ride-giver cut me off to share his own complaint. He has some vision issues, captchas don’t enlarge well, using the audio alternative is awkward in public (and not every captcha has an alternative for visually impaired folks),   and they’re generally just a pain in his ass. Accessibility fail.

My complaint, though is that they make me wonder if I’m a robot. I fail captchas. All. The. Time. I don’t know why, but I just can’t seem to parse the stretched out, struck through text. My ride mentioned that, as a computer science geek, the one upside of the fucking things is having a real-life application for the Turing test makes him smile. But, when you think about it, they’re a reverse of the original Turing test–you have to prove to a computer that you’re a human, rather than having a human determine which respondents are computers. And those computers judging us? They’re very skeptical. And they decide which of our ever-more-inescapable web services we’re allowed to access.

A few weeks ago, I took a somewhat unexpected road trip, and tried to use Facebook to beg some couch space from friends who live along the way, since I didn’t have their phone number handy. I shot off a last-minute message, and tried to use my partner’s smart phone to check for a response as we went along. for some reason, the combination of a mobile phone and the couple hundred miles from home convinced Facebook I was trying to illicitly access my own account, and it locked me out. One failed, tiny captcha later, my account was locked until I could get to a proper laptop and answer a long series annoying personal questions–they pull photos of your friends from their profiles, and make you ID them. You know what my friends don’t do much? Post clear, recent photos of themselves on their Facebook profiles. Let’s just say I’m glad we found a cheap motel.

Now, good luck proving you’re human enough to comment.


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