CAPTCHA Advertising Coming Soon To A Website Near You

Sick of internet advertisements? Like it or not, banner, contextual, and even pop-up ads have become an integral part of nearly all modern websites. While it’s understandable that all of our favorite websites need a way to subsidize server costs, and web-based businesses must maintain profits in order to survive, where is the line drawn?

When does a website become more of an advertisement and less of a source of information? More importantly, when do advertisements compromise the security and integrity of the site that they are displayed on?

Just when you got used to the standard forms of internet advertising, a new up-and-coming type of ad is aggressively making a name for itself in the market. If you’re already sick of internet advertisements, get ready to be thoroughly annoyed. Introducing… CAPTCHA advertising!

A Brief History Of CAPTCHA

Before we draw conclusions on the ethicality and practicality of CAPTCHAs containing advertisements, let’s take a minute to reflect on the history and purpose of CAPTCHA forms. The term CAPTCHA, or Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (whew, that’s a mouthful), was first coined by four professors at Carnegie Mellon University. The professors went on to make a variety of CAPTCHA forms that became popular in the year 2000.

As the name implies, CAPTCHAs were created as a way for websites to differentiate a real human visitor from a bot. CAPTCHA forms allow webmasters to display an image which contains a random string of letters and numbers. Visitors to websites utilizing CAPTCHAs are then be prompted to correctly enter the text displayed in the image in order to proceed with certain actions such as registering a new account, or leaving a comment on a blog or forum.

This is done in order to prevent bots from mass registering accounts, automatically posting spammy comments, and sending spam messages to a large amount of registered users among other things. CAPTCHAs have advanced over time to become less vulnerable to bots and scripts attempting to solve the codes while striving to remain user-friendly.

How CAPTCHA Advertising Works

The evolution of CAPTCHAs has inevitably led to a form of advertising. In essence, the core concepts and purpose of CAPTCHAs will remain unchanged. Don’t worry, you’ll still be shown an image that displays a line of text which must be entered correctly in order to proceed. The difference, however, lies in the presentation of the CAPTCHA. Instead of seeing a distorted image that contains randomly generated characters, you will see an image containing text that has been carefully selected by an advertiser.

These advertisers, which will likely span a number of big name national and international corporations, will submit their ads to a company capable of displaying them. Webmasters looking to monetize their CAPTCHA forms will also sign up with this company, and will be given a script that places the customized CAPTCHA on select portions of their website. The advertiser will then pay the said company a set amount of cash every time the CAPTCHA is successfully filled out, and the webmasters will be paid a cut of what the advertiser is paying. The company, acting as an intermediary, then collects the change remaining after paying out the webmaster.

The Company Behind It All

Currently, there is only one company that is actively working as the middleman between advertisers and webmasters in order to display CAPTCHA ads — that company is AdCopy. With physical addresses listed in New York City and Philadelphia, AdCopy is currently beta testing the new form of internet advertising. Advertisers and website owners interested in trying out the service can request a beta invite into the system on AdCopy.com by filling out a short form. The site boasts of a self-serve advertising platform that will allow advertisers to create and upload their ads directly to their system using a simple interface.

While no details are given as to who exactly is behind AdCopy, the company claims to consist of a group of veterans in the industry. The site also points out that they are supported by First Round Capital and angel investors. Their contact information is also readily available on the site. While access is currently invite-only during the beta phase, it can be expected that the service will open up to the public once it is officially launched.

Corporate And Consumer Benefits

It may seem like a strange way to advertise, but upon closer inspection, it’s pure genius. Think about it, large companies spend millions and millions of dollars branding their name through commercials that you may or may not be paying attention to. Using CAPTCHA ads, you will be left without a choice; you’ll have to interact with the ad in order to access certain areas of participating websites.

Aside from the forced recognition factor, this also gives advertisers a chance to engrain their message into your mind in a way that was previously unavailable. McDonald’s, for example, may run an ad displaying the image of a Big Mac, fries, and a drink accompanied by the text “I’m lovin’ it.” The goal of their ad being not only to leave their name and image fresh in your mind, but also to make a subliminal connection between McDonald’s and loving their food. This association is only reinforced by requiring you to type it in. Clever? Absolutely. Ethical? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

While it’s not as easy to name the potential consumer benefits of such ads, there are a few positives to consider. For one, some CAPTCHAs are barely legible and frankly absurd. There are few things more frustrating than having to enter a nearly unreadable CAPTCHA character string nine times before coming up with a positive match. Believe me, advertisers are going to make their CAPTCHA’s text clear as day. Additionally, there is always the off chance that you will be shown an ad that exposes you to a new product or service that you are interested in.

Potential Issues And Complications

While CAPTCHAs definitely do their part in preventing bots from using websites in unintended ways, they don’t always work. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Spammers who are utilizing bots can and will find a way around having to fill out CAPTCHA forms manually. Because of this, CAPTCHAs are constantly evolving to stay a step ahead of programmers and their bots.

At present, there are several ways to get around standard CAPTCHA ads of almost any level of complexity. Dated CAPTCHAs are easily crackable using PHP scripts like reCAPTCHA, while more advanced forms are a little bit more difficult to get around. This is just a slight annoyance for spammers, however. The people behind these bots have no problem paying companies such as Bypass Captcha a measly $14 for their offshore employees to manually solve 2,000 CAPTCHAs.

With scripts and services that nullify CAPTCHAs readily available, what steps are companies like AdCopy taking to combat them? If AdCopy CAPTCHAs are easily bypassed, the excessive workload and negative visitor experience is more than enough to discourage webmasters from using them, despite the monetary gain. Additionally, advertisers aren’t going to be happy paying for their ad to be placed in front of an automated script or a professional CAPTCHA solver.

Keeping these potential issues in mind, it also leads us to question the measures has AdCopy taken to prevent abuse. AdCopy CAPTCHAs are currently yielding webmasters an average of 10 cents per successful engagement. With companies like Bypass Captcha charging less than one cent to manually fill out a CAPTCHA, what’s to stop people from paying them to fill out CAPTCHAs for financial gain?

While these are questions that need to be answered, I’d think (and hope) that AdCopy has already thought about and addressed these issues. We’re likely to see further details outlining the security measures and precautions they’ve taken to prevent spam and fraud when their ad platform is publicly launched. Like any variety of CAPTCHA, however, the tricky part is going to be staying one step ahead of the people attempting to exploit the system.

What To Expect Going Forward

Expect a number of ad platforms to pop up in the near future that mimic the AdCopy model of CAPTCHA advertising. Companies are likely to attempt to differentiate themselves with different costs, expanded placement options, improved statistical tracking, and increased opportunities for advertisers to customize their ads. Websites will begin to implement these CAPTCHA ads as they become more widely known and publicly available.

Though the concept of CAPTCHA advertising is simple, the possible issues and complications leave us with a number of questions that need to be answered. Will CAPTCHA ads become a standard in internet advertising? What will internet users reaction be to such ads? Will this breed of CAPTCHAs be as viable as other forms? Only time will tell.

With that, I ask you, what is your opinion on CAPTCHA ads? Are you insulted or indifferent?

Written by Timothy James Duffy

Timothy James Duffy is a full-time internet marketer and online content creator by day, and a Playstation 3 addict by night. Follow him on Twitter @timothyjduffy.
SEE MORE ARTICLES BY "Timothy James Duffy"

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Comments
  • http://play-lead-guitar.com Lead Guitarist

    What’s next? Comcast announcing every 3rd DNS request reroutes to a commercial first?

  • Jo Diggs

    Oh wow, thats gonna be annoying to say the very least.

    Lou
    http://www.fbi-logs.hk.tc

  • silence do good

    i think its a good idea. better than googles reCAPTCHA- great idea translating books and documents into digital text- but why did you have to make users do it for free!? in this economy shouldn’t google hire a ton of people to sit and type these words into digital text, employing 1000+ people would have been a better option for Google, than making us do it with reCAPTCHA.
    AdCopy seems to make this simpler, easier to read, and you get to help the site make a little money without having to actually pay them, how and why is that wrong? its better than a banner that god forbid you click on it, you’re thrown away from the site!

    these sites need to make money to operate and for us to use them- i think AdCopy has a great idea.

    • Gonzobot

      I don’t think you understand. You will not be allowed to access the website you want, until you give them ten cents (via being advertised to and forced to interact).

      This will make the entire internet a gigantic paywall.

  • Rich

    Assuming we all agree on a standard video format for HTML5, video ads with the CAPTCHA keyword in the ad randomly appearing could raise the cost of off-shore solvers. It would cost them more to have to watch a 30 second advert to look for the keyword.

  • http://www.faqpal.com FAQPAL

    It’s actually a fantastic idea, can’t believe it wasn’t thought of sooner.

  • Brent

    I think that is a bad idea, given the example a bot can be made if you know a bunch the advertismennts you randomly choos one. Unless the same advertisment is going to have different slogans each time. I could just try the dish network one and i may hit it 1 out of 1000x and maybe 1000x an hour depending on how random they will be.

  • cliff

    I have difficulty seeing how any CAPTCHA that will deliver the advertiser’s message clearly will fulfill the purpose of a CAPTCHA… the example pictured in the article would certainly not fool some of the more efficient CAPTCHA crackers.

    Heck, the implication is that the image won’t change for a given advertiser, which means the cracker could just look the image up in the database (even if the filename were to be dynamic, the content isn’t likely to be terribly dynamic), and then they’ll have the answer in the database already. You could populate the database using the offshoring at $14 per 2k, and I am willing to bet you that there’s not going to be enough different ads available for it to even add up.

    In terms of forcing advertising on the user, it seems like a viable idea, but in terms of acting as a CAPTCHA, I just can’t see how that’s going to ever work.

  • http://www.profeval.com Derrick

    @Lead Guitarist
    Haha.

  • zeropaper

    well… 2 things one:
    CAPTCHAs are boring (but for obvious reasons, needed).
    ADs are boring (most of the time, but, here also, almost required).
    What is the result of “boring + boring”?
    Please fill the the next comment form with your answer to prove you’re human.

  • http://www.camnio.com Camnio

    just when you thought there couldn’t be anymore advertising.

  • Rekrul

    I use a hosts file that blocks 99% of ads. I’m not about to go adding exceptions to it for web sites that are stupid/greedy enough to use this pain in the ass system. If it becomes widespread, I guess there are a lot of sites I won’t be using…

  • http://www.pikk.com Kevin

    There are a few companies doing this already, like adcaptcha and adcaptcher and one more which I can’t remember.

  • Mark Smith

    Great idea! Captcha is too difficult and this is easy–it is a much better user experience. I can see how advertisers would love this. It is also very cool that publishers can make money doing these ads–I don’t want to pay for content and I’d much rather see ads!

  • Jatt

    What’s funny is captchas were made hard to read because the first auto-solvers were bots that read the dark vs light parts of the page and matched the text it found to a database then solved it in seconds.

    Now the ads need to be seen clearly so they remove the random dark bits that mix in with the letters to block the visual scanners. I say go for it and someone will make an auto-updated bot to detect and solve those captchas for the average user.

  • http://N/A Hello

    I’m very glad captcha ads aren’t going to be used how I was expecting them to – ads which can’t be closed unless you fill out the captcha.

  • Tom

    I think this is a decent idea, not perfect by any sense but still a good idea.

  • Ginger

    Wondering how this will affect user abandonment rates on sites. The example shown looks suspiciously like a banner ad; will this appearance cause users to decide they don’t want to participate on the site and go elsewhere instead?
    I hope that participating sites watch their analytics carefully.

  • Eric Parnell

    Captcha codes that are difficult creat very high bounce rates–These are easy to handle. I predict that this will improve conversions for web site owners

  • Xenos

    I ran across one of these a couple days ago.
    I closed the site and never went back to it.
    Sadly seems pretty easy to block the one i saw with ad blocker.

  • http://www.techi.com/2010/04/captcha-advertising-coming-soon-to-a-website-near-you/ NOFINGWAY

    NOTHING is worth this crap. I will stop using the PAID internet and get my sources underground. I will avoid these advertisers and THEIR companies at all cost for the inconvienence. They can kiss my lilly neopolitan assests goodby. I refuse to join this club. Only watching a feature film for free would be worth this. There is nothing more. I will stop reading,watching,or playing anything in digital content. This will give the internet back to us geeks and the CORPORATE INDUSTRY(ROBOCOP) can go to hell broke. When I come to these types of capture sites I will close the window and move on elsewhere. I urge the rest of you to do the same.

  • Eric Parnell

    Advertising is part of our society–totally braided in. This does good for advertisers, publishers and us–we all win. Some people hate advertising but they are in the vocal minority. Some people hate puppies too

  • Joe

    Have you seen what some puppies grow into?! :P

  • http://www.dirtyphonebook.com Charles DJ

    That’s actually a brilliant idea, I just think the ad copy itself is going to be frightfully boring as brand managers and other dumb people get hold of the concept and try and carry it forward. But it’s as obvious a place for an ad as any, I suppose

  • Jeffrey Eldred

    I don’t, in principle, have a problem with people using and making money off of a necessary inconvenience

    I just know that this will lead to an increase of CAPTCHAs, and I hope it doesn’t come to that.

    This may seem like using them as Ads would hamper the security of CAPTCHAs, but the monetization of this web feature could make it important enough to sponser the rapid change in CAPTCHAs or flashy versions of CAPTCHAs necessary to have true CAPTCHA security.

    Potential flaw is someone paying for a CAPTCHA Ad and than spamming the heck out of the site as soon as their ads come up.

  • http://www.adscaptcha.com Captcha Advertising

    There are few services alike, captcha advertising will be big in the near future

  • http://www.confidenttechnologies.com cti

    The problem with advertisement captcha example covered in this post is that bots could easily use optical character recognition read the text “$180 savings” and pass the CAPTCHA. The text does not appear to be obfuscated in any way. Additionally, if the CAPTCHA only displays one ad at a time, then the advertiser or the website using the CAPTCHA would need to come up with thousands of different ads to display, in order for it to be secure against brute force attacks or random guessing from bots. If there are only a few different ads to choose from, a bot could run through them all in a matter of seconds. Likewise, if the website using the CAPTCHA is relying on that advertiser to come up with different phrases to be entered for the security check, they won’t be able to come up with enough unique phrases to be secure against bots. Having a handful of ads or phrases is simply not an effective or secure CAPTCHA.

    A different alternative to CAPTCHA advertising could be something like this: http://www.confidenttechnologies.com/products/confident_CAPTCHA.php

    (Full disclosure — I work for this company)

    By presenting a randomly-generated grid of multiple images, this picture-based CAPTCHA is more secure against bots. It presents a different grid of photos with each session. Unlike with text, (which can easily be read by bots by using optical character recognition) the pictures used in the Confident CAPTCHA image grid are difficult for bots to “recognize”. Computer vision is not advanced enough for bots to be able to see the picture and make an intelligent determination of what the subject of the picture is (e.g. humans can look at a random picture and realize “that’s a cat” but bots cannot). For these reasons (and others) the image grid approach is more secure against brute force attacks or random guessing from bots.

    Advertisers, or the website owner themselves, could include a few of their own pictures of products or services within the grid of photos. They could even require that the user click on their photo as one of the steps in the CAPTCHA verification test. In this way, they would guarantee that the user sees their advertising image, but the website is also secure against bots. After all, although websites and advertisers are looking for new and unique ways to get their message across, the primary purpose of a CAPTCHA is to increase website security. The CAPTCHA needs to be both secure and usable.

  • Pingback: Are You Human? CAPTCHA’s Many Ways of Asking the Same Question | Techi.com

  • http://vkontaktess.ru deatiowlelone

    thanks! :)

    lets write them until the admit it, or stop doing it! i am writing them now!

    :)

  • sam schwartz

    This is so cool–very innovative. So much better than punch the monkey!

  • http://adscaptcha.com/ Cpatcha Ads

    I think it will make our online life less annoying
    as the current captchas can really hurt your eyes (and nerve).
    http://adscaptcha.com/

  • Peter Chalker

    @cti
    I would think that it would be easier for bots randomly guessing a picture on a grid. I’m sure if I kept clicking the top left picture every time, I’m sure that I’ll get a hit every, I don’t know the percentage, but let’s say, 20 times. I would think this is a lot more hits than a random word bot…

  • sarah eppler

    this is really smart for CPG and auto categories