CAPTCHAs don’t prove you’re human – they prove you’re American

by @edent | # # | 61 comments | Read ~21,765 times.

When I was a small child, I took an IQ test. One of the first questions I stumbled on was “A piece of candy costs 25¢. Jonny has a dime. How many nickels does he need to buy the candy?”

My 7-year old brain popped. WTAF is a nickel? Or a dime for that matter? We don’t have those coins in my country! We don’t spend in ¢ either. There was no way to get around the cultural knowledge required by the test. There were several questions like that – all assuming the test maker and taker were from a cultural homogeneity.

A few days ago, I had to complete a CAPTCHA. One of those irritating little web tests which is supposed to prove that you are a human. Here’s what I got:

A grid of images, some of them have photos of American taxis, some have photos of trees.

Guess what, Google? Taxis in my country are generally black. I’ve watched enough movies to know that all of the ones in America are yellow. But in every other country I’ve visited, taxis have been a mish-mash of different hues.

This annoys me. Will Google’s self driving cars simply not recognise London’s Black Cabs? Will any yellow car in the UK be classified as a taxi by the infallible algorithm? Will Google refuse to believe I’m human simply because I don’t know what a Twinkie is?

Before sticking a comment below, riddle me this – if something costs a half-a-crown, and you pay with a florin, how many tanners will you get in your change?

61 thoughts on “CAPTCHAs don’t prove you’re human – they prove you’re American

  1. rachel says:

    None…you’d be asked for another tanner 🙂

    1. Spike (@tenbus_uk) says:

      Or two thrupenny bits 🙂

  2. Alex Gibson says:

    I actually failed one of these recently. I gave up after 5 minutes of trying to identify parts of the photos containing street signs. The problem was scope: did they include the poles? tiny stranded corners? Informal signs? Having failed one, they seem to get fussier, and utterly fixated on street signs rather than throwing me an alternative challenge… I was forced to switch over to Internet Explorer (ugh!) and prove my humanity with an easier challenge…

    1. Jon Ribbens says:

      Top tip: just use incognito mode in your favourite browser rather than switching to Internet Explorer.

      1. Ashutosh Tiwary says:

        Simple still. Just use Firefox focus as your browser!

  3. Claudius Coenen says:

    In germany there used to be a “Groschen” (10 Pfennige or 1/10 of a Deutsche Mark). I would love to alienate both young people (who never experienced a currency discontinued in 2002) or anyone who never went to germany. Where can I start my own CAPTCHA-Service?

    1. Jozef Chocholáček says:

      In the Czechia, they use term “pětka” (~fiver) for 10 crown (CZK) coin, not for the 5 crown coin – because in 1892(!), when the Austro-Hungarian empire adopted the gold standard and changed its currency from guldens to crowns, 10 crowns was of the same value as 5 guldens previously.

      1. Dan Knauss says:

        No one knows what Czechia is either. Stick with Czech Republic!

        1. I agree with this sentiment. It doesn’t roll off the tongue nicely at all.

        2. Bryan Betts says:

          Czechia is fine, so’s the Czech Republic, but please, not ‘the Czechia’.

          Nice fiver story though. I wonder which Euro note will eventually take over the nickname?

          1. Frederik says:

            Okay, just to annoy even more we in Albania have lek. Our currency changed value around 1960 so that 10 lek became 1.
            even now in 2020 people colloquially say 1000 for a 100 bill. Same with prices. Add this to the IQ test 🙂

            1. Miłosz says:

              Same thing with Poland. Under soviet influence we had a currency with code PLZ (PoLish Zloty), but due to hyperinflation we needed a denomination so 10 000 PLZ became 1 PLN (PoLish New Zloty, it annoys me, I didn’t know what ‘N’ stands for for a long time). There is a lot of common names for 1 000 000 PLZ/N (like “bańka”) which now are used also for 100 PLN – depends how old you are.
              Apart from this there are many different names for 1 000 PLN like “patyk” (stick), “klocek” (brick), “kafel” (tile), “koło” (circle), but some people sometimes use these names for 100s, you just need to blend in the context.

              1. Frederik says:

                Wow, I thought this was only an Albanian thing, I learnt now that same happened in Poland and Argentina (the other reply to my comment)

                My father uses to say that the state at the time should had made a mathematically complicated change so people had to learn the new value instead of using our weird way (100 new lek or 1000 old lek).

                Thanks for sharing!

            2. Gonzalo says:

              Same in Argentina! Inflation going rampant since forever, old people frequently say things like “it cost me a million pesos”, when it was actually a thousand 😅

              1. Frederik says:

                Ah, forgot, as for the names, we used to say the name of the painted person in the money, 500 were Skanderbeg and so on.

                While in Italy where I live, in Rome the jargon is:

                Sacco (bag) – means one of thousand (1 in euro, 1000 in the old lira)
                Scudo (shield) – 5 or 5000 euro / lira
                Piotta (can’t translate in English) – 100 € or 100,000 lire

      2. Dutch says:

        We miss our “guldens” too, in the Netherlands.

      3. starenka says:

        Well, don’t let me started with “šesták” (“sixer”)…

        One gulden had 60 kreuzer. So one sestak was a 1/10 of a gulden (=six kreuzer). Now in 1857 a decadic system kicked in and a gulden became 100 kreuzer. So a sestak was still 1/10 aka 10 kreuzer. Later on as you described a devalvation came in and it actualy became 20 kreuzer. In present times it means 20 hallers which is a fifth a of Czech Crown (CZK)

      4. Alexander Grebenkov says:

        When a Russian person says to another Russian “Дай рубль” (“give me a rouble”), does he mean 1 RUB (1 ₽) or one thousand RUB (1000 ₽)? You’ll never know, unless you know what the situation between them is.

  4. Quentin says:

    Rachel’s right, though if you didn’t have any tanners on your person, one and a half groats should sort you out.

  5. Wendy M. Grossman says:

    Alex Gibson: experimentation has shown me that you can ignore the poles. But these things are all hateful.


  6. Julian Bond says:

    Is there a silver Toyota Prius, that’s your Uber, in pic 1?

    1. Jez Nicholson says:

      That’s alright, if an Uber were a ‘taxi’ then it would have to follow rules and regulations 😉

  7. Raul P says:

    Localisation / localization is of the essence, innit.

  8. artesea says:

    Sidewalks and Store Fronts are my gripes.

  9. Norman says:

    Yellow taxis are probably New York and Los Angeles centric. I live in Idaho USA, and don’t recall ever seeing any yellow taxis here. The biggest taxi company in Boise has green cars, when they are painted.

  10. Its got better recently, but for a couple of months I was having to have 4 or 5 goes at them before they would let me through – not because I wasn’t getting them right though. Settled back down to 1 now.

  11. Fire Hydrants and Traffic Lights are the bane of my online existence these days

  12. Liz Thomas says:

    Had to find the traffic lights to get into a webinar on accessibility earlier this week arggggg

  13. Captchas are just a terrible idea all round. If only there was a better way of proving that we’re human?

    1. Anders says:

      A Voight-Kampff test, but that would take too long…

  14. The ones that really wind me up are the ambiguous cases. I’ve been to the US enough to mostly identify road related things, but when 5 boxes contain traffic lights, but 2 only contain ones facing away from the camera…?

  15. Same for security questions – ‘what was your college major?’ Your first car?

  16. The use of American terms in CAPTCHAs kills me. Crosswalks, sidewalks…

  17. Traffic lights are at least common enough. Hydrants though…

  18. My kids are puzzled by fire hydrants and parking meters…

  19. Indeed – it’s so annoying to be asked to identify “taxis” in a series of photos where there are no taxis (i.e. black cabs), but only some yellow cars with signs on. And could be any number of private-hire cars!

  20. Peter Jnsn says:

    i have to take basic astronomy course to correctly select Spiral type galaxy on LinkedIn security check…

  21. We should not design the internet around assumptions that only hold for 6% of its users.…

  22. Reminder that the internet is not America

  23. Or (but I haven’t seen this variant in quite a while): one picture split into tiles, and you “click all the tiles that have a traffic light”. What if the traffic light is cut between two tiles, do both count, or neither, or only the one with the larger part?

  24. There are few things more horrifying than watching Americans run around other countries assuming the locals are fully fluent in American slang and completely caught up on American pop culture.

  25. Un muy buen ejemplo del imperialismo cultural estadounidense. 👇

  26. This is why I fail then often.

  27. Kurt Reed says:

    Not every yellow car is a taxi, not every taxi is yellow. Color is irrelevant. You know it’s a taxi because it has words on it to that effect and often a taxi sign on top. But yeah users shouldn’t have to know what taxis look like around the world.

  28. I’m already uncomfortable with clicking “I am a Human”. How long before there is an AI who will take that personally?

  29. I am an American who is going blind, metaphorically speaking, looking at those puzzles. Even with my eyeglasses on I have trouble picking things out at times. That they assume California traffic norms apply everywhere else is galling as that gives very weird photos at times.

  30. Beko Pharm says:

    I never knew what exactly put me off on the most used captcha system out there but now I do. It’s not only the foreign language but the assumption I’d know what the pictures are about at all.
    BTW we usually have taxis in RAL 1015 (light ivory) here in Germany but nowadays other colours are possible – just not very common.

  31. Ram says:

    I’ve seen recaptcha ask me in my native language (Dutch) to select all bicycles, though, it showed me only pictures of motorcycles. In Dutch those two are not the same word!

  32. Outside of New York City, most of the taxis I’ve ever taken in the States have been colors other than yellow.

  33. Also I wonder why they also ask you to classify chimneys and boats.. it’s been a while since I visited the USA, but I’d hope that even there those pens wouldn’t not be necessary for a self driving car to know…

  34. I’ve never seen a fire hydrant, and it’s not just because I’m colour blind.

  35. Bobolobo says:

    Show people working a job…see if anyone under 30 can figure out what the people are doing. That would be a perfect Captcha.

  36. A lot of CAPTCHAs seem to be blissfully unaware of the existence of mobile phones too. Is there a fire hydrant somewhere in this picture that’s less than an inch square? And no you can’t zoom in, don’t be ridiculous 🤣

  37. FR says:

    We used to have Francs in France, pre-Euro. I was born in the 70’s so I used them for quite long. My grandmother was counting in Old Francs (Anciens Francs, 100 AF = 1 Franc).

    The funny thing is that this went for two generations and plenty of prizes were given in AF (the old francs), to make the prize bigger.

  38. CAPTCHAs bake in so much assumptions about what taxis, school buses, traffic lights are supposed to look like, but those assumptions are only true for a small percentage of web users …

  39. Mr Roly Poly says:

    I deliberately do not answer them correctly but still get considered human. Some are one how you react rather than the answer and nearly all of them need three answers plus. Google are being sneaky as the test is the the test you think it is.

  40. Thank you for writing this one. I home smart folks at @Google and @sundarpichai will take note of this.

  41. Ha! Genau DAS dachte ich auch letztens, als ich Taxis anklicken sollte! 😀

  42. a.wright says:

    I just want to know why we have to prove to a non-human that we are human???? I hate those little test.

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