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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: 1) by pTamok on Tuesday January 27 2015, @11:41AM

    by pTamok (3042) on Tuesday January 27 2015, @11:41AM (#138507)

    "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.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 28 2015, @04:51AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 28 2015, @04:51AM (#138754)
    every idea that spreads is a meme by definition. In the example link you provide "The rules of corporate governance allow shareholders to vote for the officers and directors that control the company's day-to-day operations. Shareholders vote on what actions the company can take, which officers will be selected and which managers will be dismissed." So in what sense are the companies not looking to maximize profits?

    "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.