Google acquires reCAPTCHA to fight fraud

17 Sep 2009

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Google has entered the anti-fraud business with the acquisition of reCAPTCHA a company that helps protect more than 100,000 websites from spam and fraud.

reCAPTCHA technology helps to ensure the user signing up for something online or accessing an area of a website are genuinely human as opposed to a software program.

The company’s technology presents words in a squiggle format that only human eyes can interpret and then use as a form of password.

“Since computers have trouble reading squiggly words like these, CAPTCHAs are designed to allow humans in but prevent malicious programs from scalping tickets or obtain millions of email accounts for spamming,” said Luis von Ahn, co-founder of reCAPTCHA, writing in the official Google Blog.

“But there’s a twist — the words in many of the CAPTCHAs provided by reCAPTCHA come from scanned archival newspapers and old books. Computers find it hard to recognise these words because the ink and paper have degraded over time, but by typing them in as a CAPTCHA, crowds teach computers to read the scanned text.”

reCAPTCHA’s unique technology improves the process that converts scanned images into plain text, known as Optical Character Recognition (OCR).

This technology also powers large-scale text-scanning projects like Google Books and Google News Archive Search.

“Having the text version of documents is important because plain text can be searched, easily rendered on mobile devices and displayed to visually impaired users,” said Will Cathcart, Google product manager. “So we’ll be applying the technology within Google not only to increase fraud and spam protection for Google products but also to improve our books and newspaper scanning process.

“That’s why we’re excited to welcome the reCAPTCHA team to Google, and we’re committed to delivering the same high level of performance that websites using reCAPTCHA have come to expect.

“Improving the availability and accessibility of all the information on the Internet is really important to us, so we’re looking forward to advancing this technology with the reCAPTCHA team,” Cathcart said.

By John Kennedy

Photo: An example of CAPTCHA text.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com