A New Year’s resolution for tech companies: knock it off with the CAPTCHAs

A photograph of a CAPTCHA grid on a screen.

The thing about CAPTCHAs is that they’re old enough to drink. The bots are better at them than I am. So why am I still being asked to fill them out?

I am not talking about the inoffensive ones with the puzzle pieces. I am not talking, even, about matching or rotating shapes. I am talking, specifically, about the grid of insane photos — the kind of thing you may be familiar with from Google’s reCAPTCHA system. If you are looking for a measured take on why they exist or the efforts to build replacements, go read this. I am not feeling measured, although I will resentfully note that CAPTCHA exists in order to stop bots and does an okay job at it.

You know how I am feeling? Furious.

I was trying to buy tickets to a double-feature of Blade Runner and RoboCop, like you do, and after entering my credit card info, the grim specter appeared. A CAPTCHA. I did not have to solve one grid of depressing traffic images. I had to solve three.

Look, I have epistemic questions about how to even approach these things. For instance: If you tell me to click on the images that contain a motorcycle, and then show me one image of a motorcycle spread across all the boxes, the correct number of squares to click is zero. Because each square contains only part of a motorcycle. That is not what I was asked for!

It gets worse. Sometimes I am told to identify buses, and one of the squares contains a weird, blurry image that might plausibly be a bus or train, but which doesn’t have enough context for me to be able to tell. Is there an “I don’t know” option? Of course not. And I don’t even have vision trouble, which I assume would make this whole experience considerably worse.

I am certain this experience is familiar to every reader of The Verge. Probably you have even read, over the years, frustrated screeds just like this one. Things were bad enough when you had to fill out one. But lately, when I’ve been trying to buy something — or even just sign up for an email list to let someone market to me — I’ve had to fill out three. Three! Why! Why! Why!

It is fully 2024. Isn’t the tech industry supposed to be about innovation?

So, here’s a new year’s resolution for the tech industry: kill this thing. Get rid of it. Find some other way to determine I’m not a bot. I never want to click on a fucking motorcycle again.


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