Ticketmaster to dump frustrating captcha system

April 28, 2013 9:34:45 PM PDT
They are everywhere on the Internet, those odd looking puzzles with distorted words that you have to decipher to log on. They are called captcha puzzles, and they are driving people crazy.

They can be frustrating and time consuming. And according to Google -- which provides captchas for websites -- we spend 17 years-worth of time every day solving these puzzles.

It's supposed to make sure you are not a computer. However, many humans say they are getting locked out. And now companies are listening.

Megan and Tristan are trying to start an email account. First, they have to figure out what these mangled characters are supposed to be. The squiggle in the middle could be anything.

They take a guess, and they get it wrong. It's happened before.

They said it took ten minutes to figure out what the captcha said. And even then they kept getting it wrong.

Websites across the world make users decipher these nonsensical phrases, but Many folks aren't sure why.

"It's actually trying to make sure that people are human," TechCrunch Senior Editor Leena Rao said.

Of course we are human, but Rao notes that websites don't know that.

"And it's just an annoying procedure for anyone who you know doesn't have a ton of time on their hands," she said.

Websites want to be sure you are not a "robo computer" blasting out spam or buying up concert tickets. However, Tristan says captcha stood in her way of getting Lady Gaga tickets.

"If you don't get them within the first, like, three minutes, you're out of luck," Tristan said. "It's not fair to people who really want to go see the concert."

Millions of fans had the same gripe. Now one of the world's biggest ticket agencies is listening.

"Our goal is to create a system that will move fans to the front of the line," said Kip Levin, Executive Vice President of Ecommerce at Live Nation.

Ticketmaster, which is part of Live Nation, is doing away with captcha puzzles. Levin says hackers kept figuring ways to beat them. As a result, Ticketmaster kept making the puzzles harder, and fans kept getting angrier.

"The distortion of the words or phrases or whatever it might be started getting more complicated and harder for people to solve and ultimately get tickets," Levin said.

Ticketmaster is rolling out a new system; it asks a simple question in a normal font, and an algorithm detects if you are human or a machine.

"It's just not that we're annoyed by captchas, but hackers are actually going past them," Levin said.

The word captcha is an acronym for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart." Google says we solve at least 200 million puzzles every day. And the company says, "We believe that captchas remain a powerful and effective tool for fighting online abuse."

Still, Rao says we may soon see less of the mangled jibberish, "There's Facebook, and there's new ways I think our identity is going to take form on the Internet," she said.

Less squinting over squiggles is just fine with Tristan, "I could be doing something much more productive like reading a book or something," she said.

The next time you scream at your captcha puzzle think of this -- captcha is serving a higher purpose. It's a project called re-captcha, every time you solve a puzzle, you are helping digitize books in the Google library. Solving the puzzles helps computers to correctly read the printed words.


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