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May 30, 2005

Yahoo - Gotcha!

I've always used Yahoo! Mail for all my email needs, but just lately they've decided to try and wind me up.

For some reason, every time I send an email I'm having to fill in one of those silly "Anti-spam" boxes on a web form, giving me a skewed picture with some letters hidden in it.

A little research has revealed some interesting points.

These little images are called CAPTCHAs (completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart), and they are designed to differentiate between a human user of a web form and automated "bots." They were developed by a team here.

There are several problems here, however, most notably with accessibility. They are incredibly difficult for a partially sighted person to use, and of course are impossible for a blind person using a braille terminal. They also take a whole load of time when I need to send lots of emails. The World Wide Web Consortium has published a document outlining some of the problems.

So aside from the fact that Yahoo! have just excluded a load of people from using their service, there's also the fact that Captchas are becoming less secure. Already it is possible to generate OCR programs to decipher them, and so they are having to become more and more illegible to the average user. Perhaps the most interesting article I found about the issue was found here. The article describes how spammers have been offering free access to pornography in return for deciphering captchas. Thus they bypass the problem of readability by incorporating a human!

I'm going to write to Yahoo! to complain, as soon as I can actually find a contact email address; all I can get is this screen, which is completely useless as far as making an actualy complaint is concerned...

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