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Why CAPTCHAs Fail on Marketplace

American Public Media’s popular program Marketplace ran a story on Friday about Ticketmaster finally removing CAPTCHAs from their ticket-buying process. Reporter Sally Herships contacted me to share my thoughts.

Captcha-22: When online security hurts sales

CAPTCHAs demonstrate that a company cares more about thwarting spam than they do about making things easy for their customers.

Most common CAPTCHAs are very challenging for people to get right, and usually as the very last field on the page, it’s a hurdle to overcome in order to complete their task. It demonstrates a lack of empathy for the user’s needs and mindset.

An alternative to CAPTCHA is to use what’s called a “honeypot” — a field that’s invisible to a human, hidden with CSS, that is meant to be left blank, but that a spambot will undoubtedly fill in. It’s a great way to weed out spam without putting up unnecessary obstacles for people who are trying to be your customers.

CAPTCHA was developed at my alma mater Carnegie Mellon University, and stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.” I’m sure the inventors meant no harm, but it has long been the bane of existence for those of us working to make a more accessible Internet.

Bravo to Ticketmaster for finally eliminating them.

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  • Marc Gravez

    Hi Whitney, thanks for teaching me a new acronym. I wonder how much mobile is influencing this change. I think CAPTCHAs are a nuisance on a computer keyboard, but almost impossible to get past on a mobile device. For example, I still can’t log in to LinkedIn on my new Windows 8 mobile, despite trying many times and otherwise finding typing on the device to be relatively straightforward.

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      Yes, I totally agree, Marc! I’ve found it all the more infuriating on mobile devices where the CAPTCHA dialog box is jumping all over the screen. Clearly they haven’t tested their own websites on all common devices.

  • Danielle

    This is great. I have one question though – how accessible would this be? If, for example, someone was using a screen reader, would this field still be hidden?
    I love the idea of being able to suggest this as an alternative!