Home Could Photos Replace Squiggles in CAPTCHA?

Could Photos Replace Squiggles in CAPTCHA?

The arms race between spammers, bots and publishers can drive the rest of us crazy too, and nowhere is that more evident than in the often maddening CAPTCHA challenges we have to jump through on many websites. Those squiggly lines run together and are too often impossible to identify. One company in Portland, Oregon believes their system of image based authentication could be used to replace traditional CAPTCHA systems.

Vidoop is a user authentication service provider that emphasizes financial services markets and OpenID. The company’s core product lets users log in to sites by entering letters and numbers on top of images in a chart that only a human eye can identify; now Vidoop thinks it can apply the same principle to CAPTCHA. It’s an intriguing possibility, as you can see below. It’s not without controversy, however.

As you can see above, site visitors will be prompted to enter letters or numbers found along with a certain combination of images. It’s a dramatically different cognitive process than the standard CAPTCHA challenge. In as much as it’s different, it’s quite interesting.

Vidoop says that as many as 20% of CAPTCHA attempts using other systems result in failure but that its system is much easier for people to use. The images can appear on a webpage, as a pop-up, or in a lightbox. The images are mostly Creative Commons licensed, the company told us – specifically under Attribution and Attribution Share Alike licenses as there is a link to a “credits” page on the bottom of each popup and the “image shield” itself is Creative Commons licensed.

How About Some Ads With Your Kittens and Puppies?

There’s a business model here, too. Vidoop says that if this system catches on, site owners will be able to sell spots in their image boxes to advertisers. The concentration required in order to identify these images would be a huge gift to advertisers placed there. There’s something a little troubling about that prospect, but the company says that in a survey so large they believe it’s nationally representative and most other people don’t mind. (

Feed readers can click here to answer our poll about this idea.


The company also misses out on the social good component of, for example, the ReCaptcha project – where CAPTCHA is used to identify words that optical book scanning machines have been unable to digitize. Those exercises can be as frustrating as any other CAPTCHA implementation. We suspect that many site owners with an alternative offering who both increased usability and cash will prefer Vidoop’s solution.

Innovations in visual media online, of which this is an example, are intriguing; but this one in particular stirs a certain ambivalence in me. Maybe I’m an outlier and few other people will feel psychologically imposed-upon by ads in technology such as this. Being asked to mentally parse images of cats from boats from fruit and finding, upon examination, a Taco Bell advertisement – feels like a betrayal of the trust I gave these collections of images when I looked deeply into their boxes.

It certainly looks easier than traditional CAPTCHA, though, and if anyone wants to gaze more thoughtfully into the squares where our sponsors’ logos can be found – we’re not going to stop you. From a user’s perspective, and from the perspective of someone who values my relative cognitive independence, I don’t think I feel entirely comfortable with what this company is doing. Perhaps the right to ignore advertisements is an essential one that Vidoop is failing to respect.

What do you think of Vidoop’s CAPTCHA solution? You can try out the company’s demo of the product for yourself here.

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