An Anonymous Coward writes:
It turns out that while you're proving to the web server you're a human, you might also be pitching in to provide one of Google's services to its corporate customers. A woman filed a class action lawsuit against Google last Thursday in US District Court in Massachusetts, alleging that Google's reCAPTCHA service has harvested unpaid image-to-text transcription work from millions of web site visitors. Google markets reCAPTCHA as a service to web site owners; its customers include Facebook, Twitter, and Ticketmaster. Like other CAPTCHA implementations, reCAPTCHA challenges site visitors to type in the text corresponding to a visually distorted word. But reCAPTCHA differs from the others in that its images often contain two distorted words, as noted by the civil complaint:
One of those words is a “known” word, which the website user must enter correctly to access the website as a security measure. That is, because Google already knows what word is being displayed in the first distorted image, if the user enters the word correctly, Google knows the user is likely to be a human, and thus permits the users to continue using the website... The other of the two words, however, serves no security purpose. The second word is an image with text that Google is attempting to transcribe. The sole purpose of the second word is to require the user to read and transcribe the word for Google’s commercial use and benefit, with no corresponding benefit to the user.
The lawsuit notes that Google makes use of optical character transcription for its own products such as Google Books and Street View, and also provides an archive digitization service to newspapers, including the New York Times. This was apparently never a dark secret; the use of reCAPTCHA to "crowdsource" digitization of old printed materials was publicized as a feature by both Luis von Ahn (who invented reCAPTCHA as a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University) and Google (who acquired the reCAPTCHA technology in 2009):
reCAPTCHA technology was developed not merely with an eye toward improving cyber security, but also as a way to harness and reuse the collective human time and mental energy spent solving and typing CAPTCHAs—a concept von Ahn has dubbed “human computation.” By constructing CAPTCHAs using words tagged as unreadable in the digitizing of books and other printed material, millions and millions of cyber users play a part every day in the digitization and preservation of human knowledge by transcribing words. Tests have shown that reCAPTCHA textual images are deciphered and transcribed with 99.1% accuracy, a rate comparable to the best human professional transcription services.
This was in the news when they first started doing it. People liked it because not only did it filter out spambots, but it also contributed to something worthwhile. Of course someone is going to be making money on that... What else did anyone expect?
I think initially the "second word" was from Project Gutenberg [gutenberg.org], a non-profit dedicated to digitizing old, public-domain books. Initially the slogan was something like "Stop spam, read books". I guess at some point that got changed, but I don't remember any notice of the change.
It's still stated clearly on the recaptcha homepage.
I wonder if this woman is just a gold digger, or if it offends her values?
There sure seems to be a lot of Google FUD this week. We've got this, the "they didn't release government data requests" stories (when of course they were under gag orders, just like everyone else), and I think there was another one over the weekend. It could be just a coincidence. I'm still of the opinion that it's Microsoft (whom I also said was spreading FUD about Google Glass, and I think that nutty theory just had some weight added to it with the showing of Holo).
It's also quite possible that I'm a paranoid conspiracy theorist. We'll see. FaceBook got caught paying for FUD to be spread against Google, it could happen again.
The mainstream news outlets (reuters and friends) are all gushing with iphone stories this week too.
There is no news there, no new products, just the iphone army in the press cranking it up again. Somehow Apple keeps a very active press churn of out-of-the-woodwork stories going constantly. Usually on NO NEWS whatsovever.
If she gets any gold, then good for her.
This lawsuit is yet another one of those tiresome but necessary maneuvers to "keep the bastards honest" (to use a uniquely Australian saying). ReCAPTCHA started off as a ingenious method of harvesting all that wasted human effort into keeping our grubby cousins from ruining something special. Then it quietly slid away from its original quid pro quo and now it seems the "harvest" ends up enriching a commercial enterprise.
Indeed, it makes sense what Google is doing - I would be entirely unsurprised to find that they are not only using the ReCAPTCHA work to solve their current problem but that they are additionally using the data to improve their algorithms. It is entirely likely that they will fold these new algorithms into further products that everyone will get to use for free. The question is whether we think that this is a fair and reasonable use of our collective time: we provide the effort, they provide us with (1) an immediate service and (2) they get to improve their accuracy and (3) they harness our effort to make something to sell. It's a interesting quandary. In my own opinion it's not acceptable. I don't mind Google improving their algorithms by studying the input and output but I do mind them making a profit directly from our labour. Were they digitising Gutenburg whilst simultaneously improving their algorithm, I'd see that as completely reasonable.
This is just another example of a slippery slope as often arises from human endeavours. As an example: let's say you're the IT guy at a large workplace. Every so often obsolete equipment gets thrown out. There is little harm taking home a crappy monitor that nobody else wants that will otherwise get put into landfill. Every job has these kind of perks. One falls down that "slippery slope" the day that a monitor is written off prematurely for the sole purpose of taking it home. I think we are seeing Google sliding here: they have gone from recycling something that was wasted to directly profiting from waste.
So when I say "good luck" to the plaintiff I really mean it. It's not a battle I'd want to fight but it does need to be fought - if only to remind Google that they need to be as honest as the rest of us.
Let me make sure I understand your point of view.
You seem to be saying that this poor woman was just minding her own business and Google forced her to work for free. Is that correct?
I disagree. This person sought out a gmail account in order to use the services of Google. Google has exactly zero responsibility to anyone except their shareholders and, in this case, especially no responsibility to this person who wanted to use their service for *free*.
That's not to say I think Google is a poster boy for ethical activities, much the opposite. In this case, this woman wasn't forced to do anything. If she objected to identifying a scanned word without being compensated, she could have declined to sign up for a gmail account. It seems to me that she took affirmative actions to get what *she* wanted.
I can't verify this, but I'm pretty sure that a google employee didn't track her down and force her to do *anything*.
If you want to demonize google, go for it. You won't get much of an argument from me, but this lawsuit is, IMHO, idiotic.
yea well she didn't agree to be an independent contractor so you can profit off her unpaid labor
She chose to do it. No one asked her to do anything. She could just as easily created a free email account at many [duckduckgo.com] other places.
She decided to fill in the re-captcha. No one promised her any compensation or consideration. If she wanted to be recompensed, she could have contacted Google and requested it. Fat lot of good it would have done, but again, it was her choice to do so. No one made any false promises or tricked her into doing anything. She did exactly what she wanted to do: create a gmail account.
One other tidbit, I don't profit (except as we all profit from more books being digitized) from anything Google does. I'm not a fan of Google. In fact, I find their practices reprehensible.
Don't like Google? I'm right there with you, friend. But from a logical and (N.B. IANAL) legal standpoint, there is no basis for a claim on her part, IMHO.
Obviously you have an axe to grind. Please do it on someone else's lawn.
She chose to do it. No one asked her to do anything. She could just as easily created a free email account at many other places.
And I wonder how many of those other places also require a reCaptcha to sign up for an account? From what I've seen, this could well be yet another Google service that has become so ubiquitous that it's bordering on monopoly.
I'm not sure. At the same time, whether to fill in a re-captcha or not is still a choice that the user makes. No one forced the plaintiff to do anything.
I've said this repeatedly, but apparently you folks only comprehend what you want to, so I'll say it again: I have no love for Google or its practices. I generally find them to be scum who profit from (virtually) rummaging through your underwear drawer.
However, using re-captcha to further its business goals (in this case to enhance its proprietary street view database) is a decision made by Google. Whether you think it's exploitation or not, you're still not forced to do anything at all. If you choose to use Google services (in this case, Gmail) then you have, IMHO, no cause for complaint.
As to other sites which use re-captcha, if enough folks refuse to sign up because of re-captcha and make noise about it, there will likely be a positive response.
In any case, this is a nonsense lawsuit and will likely be thrown out at the earliest opportunity.
If you don't like what Google is doing with re-captcha, don't use it. Better yet, give incorrect information. That'll learn 'em. Riiiight.
not only is captcha incorporated into gmail signups it is ubitquitous in commenting forums across the internet. if you want to be part of a community you shouldn't have to "work for google" to participate. I bet google will settle this one out of court
"Google has exactly zero responsibility to anyone except their shareholders"
Can I point out that this is not true. It is a recurring meme, often used to paint companies as legal sociopaths/psychopaths. This link (nothing special, just one of the first that came up on an Internet search engine)
gives more information and keywards on the topic, such as fiducary duty and corporate social responsibility. To quote from the article at that link:
Although corporate officers have a fiduciary duty to shareholders, they are not under any legal obligation to make sure every decision they make results in maximum company profits or higher share prices. The objective of corporate governance is not to maximize short-term share prices, but to ensure the corporation's long-term health.
And this is quite apart from the legal and regulatory responsibilities of a corporate body, which involves taking account of applicable laws and conditions imposed by regulatory bodies. Some legal environments impose a duty of corporate social responsibility on companies, so in those cases, you can't perform socially irresponsible behaviour on the excuse that it is mandated by the articles of association or shareholders.
I general see the phrase "zero responsibility to anyone except their shareholders" used when someone is trying to deflect an argument away, or to excuse irresponsible behaviour.
"a Mexican subsidiary of the retail chain Wal-Mart was accused of bribing officials to obtain building permits for more stores. When the news came out, the stock price fell by eight percent. The California state teachers' union pension fund, one of the company's sizable investors, sued Wal-Mart for its actions, which damaged the stock price." Yea you can't get caught breaking the law because then you don't win, if they didn't get caught that would be maximum profit. google did not win, though they are in so many businesses anyone would have a hard time proving that the drop from 534$/share to 518$/share, since the complaint was filed on 1/22, was correlated with the complaint.
When they first started doing it the OCR wasn't for Google, it was free training data to improve open engines. No longer.