Acronym Monday: CAPTCHA

What does CAPTCHA mean in plain English?

In our technological world, there are hundreds of technology-related acronyms that programmers and developers have been able to define since they were in their coding diapers. Sometimes it doesn’t come as easy for everyone else. Wildcard deals with tons of non-technical clients, and we have perhaps just as many non-technical team members. In honor of these people, we have decided to take one day out of every week to explain some of these acronyms. We are calling this day “Acronym Monday” in an arguably fruitless effort to make Mondays exciting and something to look forward to.


Today's Acronym Monday is brought to you by the acronym CAPTCHA.

Here's the scenario:

You are signing into your email account and you accidentally type in the wrong password. You quickly remember what it is but now the web page wants you to type a bunch of jumbled and distorted letters and numbers into a box along with your correct password. Or maybe you are signing up for an account on your favorite clothing website and there's that box again. Why do you keep seeing this throughout the internet? What does it actually mean?

What you see is called a CAPTCHA. Other than being totally fun to say, it actually has a purpose that can benefit you. CAPTCHA stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart.” Catchy right?

The CAPTCHA box is used to differentiate between humans and robots and to prevent spam. You wouldn't want a robot hacking into your email account and spreading inappropriate websites to your co-workers would you? I didn't think so.

You can see an example CAPTCHA at captcha.net and read more about the CAPTCHA there, as well.

Robots, although pretty smart and getting smarter all the time, can't actually comprehend those letters and numbers that we humans can. So, by you writing the correct string of words in that box, it shows the website that you are indeed human and can now pass through the robot-stopping portal. How exciting!

CAPTCHA is all about security. In fact, it's been keeping websites, emails, online polls, blogs, etc. safe since the early 2000s. With almost two decades under it's belt, I'd say it's doing a pretty good job.

And all this time you were thinking it was just a useless hassle, weren't you? You might still be thinking that, and I can hardly blame you. Those words can sometimes be almost impossible to read, even for a human. But they have been improving and expanding what the CAPTCHA can do. This is where the reCAPTCHA comes in.

Google owns reCAPTCHA, which means "reverse CAPTCHA." It's advancements have arguably made deciphering CAPTCHAs easier, but no less secure. In fact, it is more secure now than ever before. You might still have to squint and put your nose up against the screen to try translating English to English, but there are lots of new kinds of CAPTCHAs you'll see.

In some cases, we now have the privilege of simply clicking a box that states “I'm not a robot.” Not only does this clickable box make the process so much easier, but the reCAPTCHA also has better accessibility than the CAPTCHA as well. This means that humans that may be visually or hearing impaired can get through the CAPTCHA with ease. There are options for the content to be read to you or to have the sizes and sometimes even color of the type adjusted.

You may have also seen a reCAPTCHA that you recognize as an address number from a house on Google Street View. They actually are addresses taken from Google Street View. Google uses reCAPTCHA to improve Google Maps and Street View data. So, instead of a handful of Google employees going through all the addresses in Google Street View, they have basically outsourced the work to all of us in the public.

The bottom line is that it's getting easier to read, and I think we can all find some comfort in that.

Next Monday, we are delving into more obscure territories of the technological acronym: IPv6 is next, everyone.