Google’s New reCAPTCHA Tracks Your Online Activities

The internet can be a very strange place. One of the many ways in which it can be strange is in that there are quite a few bots roaming around out there. While many of these bots are benign, designed to fulfill simple tasks based on a fixed set of instructions, many of them are malicious, and quite a few of them are pretending to be real people. CAPTCHAs are basically attempts to weed out these bots and make sure that accounts are made by and logged into by real people only in order to eliminate fake accounts that have been made using bots.

There are a lot of different kinds of CAPTCHAs (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) out there, and many of them are quite annoying. You have to look through a series of vague pictures trying to find a random item, sometimes you have to type in a word that is barely legible, and some companies use their own slogans as CAPTCHAs in an attempt to advertise their own products and services. Google has been working for several years to change how annoying CAPTCHAs can be because, after all, they are essential to keeping the internet as safe as possible.

Google’s version of this tool is called a reCAPTCHA, and it is notable for being the simplest way to prove that you are a bot. Instead of having to jump through hoops in order to prove that you are a real person using the internet, all you have to do is click on a square and your identity will have been confirmed. Google has been updating this tool and the latest version came out last year in 2018. However, a lot of people don’t understand how a reCAPTCHA works, and unfortunately the answer to your question may not be something that you are all that comfortable with.

The reCAPTCHA was first invented by researchers at Carnegie Mellon, an updated version of the CAPTCHAs that had been in use since the mid 90s when people working at an pre Google era search engine named Alta Vista were trying to create a way to prevent the problem of bots being used to create fake accounts and post spam comments, along with being used for a wide variety of increasingly malicious purposes. A CAPTCHA is basically an automated Turing Test, and a reCAPTCHA is a simpler way to perform this test.

The way that reCAPTCHAs work is that they track your online activities in a way. Google compiles the data collected from users that are selecting images in order to prove that they are human and puts it in a library that can be used to monitor how the internet is being used on a regular basis, and there is a lot of controversy surrounding the anonymity of this data as well as the fact that Google is basically profiting off of people proving that they are not bots whilst not giving them an option to opt out of what is essentially a data collection scheme.

Google has stated that it is in no way trying to exploit users, but several users have reported that using Google Chrome in the incognito mode results in a much more complicated reCAPTCHA process compared to when they use the regular version which shows that Google is using some kind of tracking to figure out whether or not you are a bot.

Photo: Google

Read next: I'm not a Robot! Internet Users Speak up Against the Inconveniences caused by Google reCaptcha!
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