Opinion: On Google’s ReCAPTCHA Privacy Nightmare

Opinion – Google ReCAPTCHA

You’re no doubt familiar with clicking on a box declaring that you are not a robot, that looks something like this:

For most people, this only takes a few seconds, validates, and lets them continue on their way. However, if you’re not signed into your Google Account, don’t use Google Chrome and have any kind of tracking protection in your browser, there’s a good chance you’ll be treated with the opportunity of helping train Google’s Machine Learning image recognition algorithms:

Image Source

Google has a history of mass-outsourcing free labour to the global population of internet users, with ReCAPTCHA v2, they employed the involuntarily help of millions to transcribe scanned books, which lead to large copyright cases.

With ReCAPTCHA v3, or the I’m not a robot checkbox, Google tracks your usage around the website it is embedded on before you even get to the Captcha form.

You agree to Google’s Privacy Policy

Ever clicked I’m not a robot? In doing so, you agree to Google’s Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Perhaps you’re thinking it’s easy to avoid, but let me assure you it isn’t – once you start paying attention to every place using Google ReCAPTCHA v3, you’ll be shocked!

I choose to use Firefox and DuckDuckGo, and to avoid Google services as much as possible. But if I want to do something like track a package, I have to agree to Google’s Privacy Policy.

Google’s tracking code is on more websites than any other, including Facebook.

Alternatives

In my opinion, Google clearly holds monopolies in many areas least of all this, and needs to be broken up. Failing this, ReCAPTCHA needs to be redesigned such that it doesn’t serve as tracking and free labour for image recognition, and instead purely serves as a validation tool. A good start to this would be making the code FOSS, and allowing webmasters to self host it, rather than relying on Google’s black box proprietary cloud services.

If you’re a website owner and looking to replace Google ReCAPTCHA, here is a fantastic guide.

Additionally, hCaptcha is a much more privacy friendly, drop in replacement for Google ReCAPTCHA.

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