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posted by LaminatorX on Tuesday January 27 2015, @02:34AM   Printer-friendly
from the croud-fleecing dept.

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.

 
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  • (Score: 2) by NotSanguine on Tuesday January 27 2015, @03:35AM

    Nor is it, IMHO, a reasonable basis for a lawsuit.

    Doesn't Ms. Rojas-Lozano have anything better to do than file worthless lawsuits?

    From TFA:

    According to the suit — filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts — Rojas-Lozano signed up for a Gmail account and was forced to respond to a ReCAPTCHA prompt by typing two words that were displayed as two distorted images — and she did not receive any compensation for transcribing the second word. [Emphasis added]

    No one forces her or anyone else to sign up for gmail or use sites that require re-captcha, nor is any site required to use it either. I would be very surprised if this wasn't thrown out at the earliest opportunity.

    Then again, if she stopped filling in the re-captchas, she might have more time to file new lawsuits.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 27 2015, @03:58AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 27 2015, @03:58AM (#138420)

    I agree that this is mostly bullshit, but you do have to draw a line somewhere. At what point does it become actual work that falls under labor laws? Are grocery stores ever going to require customers to restock everything in a cart before they'll have an empty cart to use? Could a restaurant require you to clean the tables while they make your order?

    • (Score: 2) by NotSanguine on Tuesday January 27 2015, @04:09AM

      Are grocery stores ever going to require customers to restock everything in a cart before they'll have an empty cart to use?

      Maybe. If you don't want to do that, shop elsewhere.

      Could a restaurant require you to clean the tables while they make your order?

      Sure. Again, if you don't want to do it, eat at another restaurant.

      Sensing a trend here?

      --
      No, no, you're not thinking; you're just being logical. --Niels Bohr
      • (Score: 2) by GungnirSniper on Tuesday January 27 2015, @04:20AM

        by GungnirSniper (1671) on Tuesday January 27 2015, @04:20AM (#138428) Journal

        There was a time when all merchandise was behind the counter and prices were all haggled. Surely racks and set prices were frowned upon at first, but the market spoke.

        • (Score: 2) by VLM on Tuesday January 27 2015, @02:26PM

          by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday January 27 2015, @02:26PM (#138544)

          "prices were all haggled"

          And yet, in 2015, womens clothing stores where 90% of the store is "on sale" at any given instant, plus or minus the corruption level of your state regulators. Its like one-way-communication haggling.

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by TheRaven on Tuesday January 27 2015, @11:14AM

        by TheRaven (270) on Tuesday January 27 2015, @11:14AM (#138498) Journal
        The problem with this argument is that it assumes a functioning market with viable alternatives. This isn't always the case and it's particularly hard to compete with a company like Google that can afford to run almost everything at a loss because their advertising business brings in so much money.
        --
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    • (Score: 2) by zeigerpuppy on Tuesday January 27 2015, @06:00AM

      by zeigerpuppy (1298) on Tuesday January 27 2015, @06:00AM (#138448)

      It's not quite that simple.
      Firstly, this should clearly be in the Terms of Service. If it's not, the case may stand up.
      Secondly, this also relates to Google's effective monopoly situation. If they can argue that on some basis she had to use the service, again there may be a fragile leg to stand on.
      But in general, I agree, just don't use Google, they are clearly evil.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 27 2015, @10:30AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 27 2015, @10:30AM (#138490)

      Could a shop require you to take the items from the shelf yourself? Every supermarket does these days.
      Could a restaurant require you to carry the food to your table yourself? Every fast food restaurant does.
      Could a furniture shop require you to build the furniture from the parts yourself? That's exactly IKEA's business model.

      • (Score: 1) by stp on Tuesday January 27 2015, @03:32PM

        by stp (3735) on Tuesday January 27 2015, @03:32PM (#138563)

        A better analogy would be a restaurant requiring you to build furniture before getting served.

        • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Tuesday January 27 2015, @06:22PM

          by maxwell demon (1608) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday January 27 2015, @06:22PM (#138597) Journal

          More like drawing a single screw by a small amount.

          --
          The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 28 2015, @06:36AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 28 2015, @06:36AM (#138774)

      Well, see, here's the thing. Around here they've got a chain called Aldi's. From what I understand, it costs you some pocket change to rent a cart.

      Personally, I prefer Save-a-Lot. You have to bring your own bags and bag your own stuff.

      Now, if you want full service, I'd recommend Hardee's or D&W. I think those are the only places that still have baggers. They'll even take your groceries out to your car and help load it. Also I think Family Fare up north.

      But it'll cost you a bit more.

      Ah, free choice.

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by krishnoid on Tuesday January 27 2015, @08:07AM

    by krishnoid (1156) on Tuesday January 27 2015, @08:07AM (#138470)

    Rojas-Lozano signed up for a Gmail account and was forced to respond to a ReCAPTCHA prompt by typing two words that were displayed as two distorted images — and she did not receive any compensation for transcribing the second word.

    She got a Gmail account and 15GB of email storage. That counts, right?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 27 2015, @04:03PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 27 2015, @04:03PM (#138569)

      The point is that she got that email account and 15GB of storage in exchange for her privacy and her time for viewing/reading the ads associated with it. That's the deal she signed off on.
      Nowhere was it mentioned that she was also required to transcribe digital images.

      A comparison would be that you make a deal with a seller to buy product x, but that the seller will only let you take it home after you've repaired his garage door, which wasn't in the sales contract.
      The amount of work Google (seller) requires from the buyer is much less, but it is still required work that's not stated in the deal.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 28 2015, @04:24AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 28 2015, @04:24AM (#138746)

        I don't think I've ever seen a quid pro quo user agreement in the license whatsoever. So no, I don't think she did enter a contract with well defined terms like you described. If anything, the EULA probably makes the entire suit frivalous. Unless the captcha comes before you read the EULA :)