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Consumer Advocates Unite to Kill CAPTCHA

6 August 2013 at 10:08 am
Staff Reporter
Major Australian Not for Profit consumer advocacy organisations have launched a campaign to “kill CAPTCHA”, claiming the annoying tests used by websites to prove users are human are discriminatory.

Staff Reporter | 6 August 2013 at 10:08 am


Consumer Advocates Unite to Kill CAPTCHA
6 August 2013 at 10:08 am

Major Australian Not for Profit consumer advocacy organisations have launched a campaign to “kill CAPTCHA”, claiming the annoying tests used by websites to prove users are human are discriminatory.

CAPTCHA, which stands for Completely Automated Public Turing Tests to Tell Computers and Humans Apart, are the common tests requiring website users to enter in a string of letters and numbers before they can transact on the web.

“They are designed to protect websites against exploitation by spammers but hundreds of thousands of Australians who are blind or vision impaired are typically locked out of engaging with sites that use CAPTCHA because they – or their screen reader software – are unable to read the skewed and confusing text,” according to consumer advocacy groups.

A new “kill CAPTCHA” petition on has so far received dozens of signatures from people affected by the inaccessibility of CAPTCHA, and many have published moving reasons for signing on the site. 

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has joined with groups such as Blind Citizens Australia, Media Access Australia, Able Australia and the Australian Deafblind Council to call on organisations big and small to phase out the use of CAPTCHA.

“CAPTCHA makes relatively simple tasks such as creating a Skype or Google Gmail account next to impossible for some and a major ordeal for others. Even people without disability find them frustrating,” ACCAN said.

“Consumers with and without disability hate clumsy and illegible CAPTCHAs,” ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin said.

“CAPTCHAs fundamentally fail to properly recognise people with disability as human.”

The official web standards body, the World Wide Web Consortium, has said CAPTCHA excludes people with disability. It proposes several alternative methods of proving web users are human. 

Audio CAPTCHAs were introduced to make them more accessible to people with disability but these are just as inaccessible as the visual version.

“My experience with audio CAPTCHA has been almost as inaccessible as visual CAPTCHA – I must have listened to the Skype audio CAPTCHA 20 times before I gave up and asked my sighted friend to set up my account,” ACCAN disability policy advisor Wayne Hawkins, who is blind said.

“In many instances locking out consumers with CAPTCHA is done unintentionally. For instance, it is found on the contact forms on the websites of politicians and the ACMA’s Do Not Call Register online form.

“The World Wide Web Consortium has declared CAPTCHA inaccessible and offers several better alternatives that can be used to tell humans and bots apart, so there is no excuse for the continued use of this technology,”Corbin said.

Dr Scott Hollier, a project manager with Media Access Australia who is blind, said the use of CAPTCHA by organisations may contravene the Disability Discrimination Act.

“According to the ABS almost 5000 baby boomers turn 65 in Australia every day and as they age, age-related disability increases steeply,” Dr Hollier said. “Not making apps, websites and other technology accessible for this market is not only morally wrong but bad for business as well.”

Greg Madson, vice-president of Blind Citizens Australia, said CAPTCHA isolated and disenfranchised large sections of the population.

“CAPTCHAs are extremely difficult for people with vision impairment to identify and impossible for people who use screen reading software which assists people who are blind to independently navigate a computer,” said Madson.

“There is nothing more annoying than setting up an online account only to be stopped dead in your tracks by an inaccessible CAPTCHA, whether it be visual or audio.”

A user experience consultancy expert recently told the BBC that CAPTCHA was “generally speaking one of the most hated pieces of user interaction on the web”.

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  • Chris C says:

    How ironic that if a person wants to comment on this article about the discriminatory nature of CAPTCHA, they nonetheless have to use the annoying thing on Pro Bono!

    I find CAPTCHA hard to read at the best of times, and sometimes it's simply impossible to tell a "9" from a "P", a "6" from a "b", a "1" from an "l", an "8" from a "B", etc. I can only imagine how much more frustrating it must be for someone with a visual impairment.

    The article says there are better alternatives available. I hope Pro Bono Australia can show some leadership in adopting one of them.

    PS – it took me two attempts to enter the CAPTCHA correctly for this post!

  • Peter Alkemade says:

    I find it ironic that commenting on this article requires me to use CAPTCHA to post the comment.

    I agree that providing a test had some value but that CAPTCHA can be an annoying test and that for many people had the effect of locking them out of the service using it. It seems a number of providers are now using popular social media links (Twitter, Facebook etc) login options to achieve the same end. I would be interested to know if these options are more accessible or if they simply move the problem further down the road.

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