ACCAN wants Google to rethink reCAPTCHA

Google says it's committed to accessibility, open to feedback.

Google should provide an accessible alternative to reCAPTCHA, the company’s online test to prevent bots from posting spam to websites, said the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network.

ACCAN has this week written an open letter to Google ANZ managing director, Maile Carnegie, complaining that reCAPTCHA unfairly discriminates against visually-impaired users. The groups have met on the issue before.

The verification service works by displaying pictures of two fuzzy words or numbers and asking users to type them into a form. However, blind users’ screen readers cannot decipher the words and audio alternatives can be difficult to understand, ACCAN said.

ACCAN has used this image for its petition to eliminate CAPTCHA. Credit: ACCAN
ACCAN has used this image for its petition to eliminate CAPTCHA. Credit: ACCAN

“Google is one of the world’s biggest online innovators, so we are calling on them to be industry leaders by making reCAPTCHA accessible for everyone,” said ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin.

“It is Google’s mission to be ‘universally accessible’ and this is an ideal way for Google to achieve this laudable goal.”

Google has responded that it is indeed all about accessibility.

“We’re committed to building products and services that are accessible for all people,” a Google spokesman said in a statement today.

“We work with advocacy organisations around the world to improve the accessibility features of our products, and are always interested in their feedback on how we can improve.”

Besides verification, Google uses reCAPTCHA to digitise printed books. The second word comes from a printed book, and by checking what multiple users have entered, Google effectively crowdsources the task of converting printed books into eBooks.

“While we acknowledge the many benefits reCAPTCHA brings in digitising print books, it effectively considers people like me who are blind non-human, excluding us from many online activities,” said ACCAN disability policy advisor Wayne Hawkins.

While ACCAN stopped short of suggesting Google dump reCAPTCHA, the consumer group said Google should offer “accessible alternatives” like “email verification or software such as Honeypot.”

Telstra announced in December that it would stop using CAPTCHA tests, a mechanism similar to reCAPTCHA but which has nothing to do with Google or book digitization. Telstra plans to do away with the verification system by 30 September 2014.

ACCAN launched a petition called "Kill CAPTCHA" in August.

Also, ACCAN has proposed legislation in Australia requiring minimum accessibility standards for content and communications services. The law would be modeled after the US’s 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act.

The ACCAN letter to Google can be read in full here (PDF).

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of a dystopian novel about surveillance. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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