Admit it: most of us have no idea what occurs when we click the security pop-up on a webpage that asks us to confirm that we are not a robot.

Many people might believe that the “I’m not a robot” option is a checkbox that only a real robot could miss, making it easy for a website to identify that what’s on screen is a human person rather than an artificial intelligence (AI) posing as one.

This is termed a “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans apart,” or CAPTCHA for short. It sounds like they wanted the word “capture” to appear in their acronym for robot detection.

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But contrary to popular belief, the real purpose of pressing the “I’m not a robot” button is actually quite different, and it’s frightening people a little.

Ticking the small box actually allows the website to examine factors like your online browsing history to assess whether or not you are a real person, as the BBC’s QI previously showed.

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“The goal is not to check the box. Sandi Toksvig told the panel, “It’s how you behaved before you checked the box that is analysed.

“So, to be honest, I can’t tell you all the details because they keep it secret because they don’t want people trying to cheat the test, but broadly speaking, you tick the box and it prompts the website to check your browsing history.”

“So let us say, for example, before you tick the box you watched a couple of cat videos and you liked a tweet about Greta Thunberg, you checked your Gmail account before you got down to work – all of that makes them think that you must be a human.”

Toksvig continued by explaining that in addition to its many tricks, the small device could also be used to conduct a second test on an individual to be extra certain.

“Checking the box can even prompt it to analyze your mouse movements across the screen,” the speaker stated. I think it’s a little unsettling.”

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“In essence, you are telling the website to examine your data and make its own determination when you click the ‘I am not a robot’ button.

“If the machine is not sure, that’s when it directs you to click on lightroom pictures of fire hydrants that aren’t there.”

The disclosure of the true purpose of the “I’m not a robot” CAPTCHA in this video, which has gone viral online, has scared some people a little.

Many others were not at all pleased to learn what truly happened after they checked the box. “Mind blown,” exclaimed one.

It “feels like an invasion of privacy,” according to one person, and “don’t want to believe this,” according to another.

Some were shocked to hear that the CAPTCHA was “actually invading my privacy,” and they followed up their incredulity with a fairly terse response of “bloody hell.”

You now know that the next time you encounter a ‘I am not a robot’ button, it might be wise to add some believable human-looking links to your browser history and use your mouse in a natural way, whatever that means.


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