CAPTCHA is one of the most damaging and unnecessary user interface elements. Those that use CAPTCHA cannot claim to be user-centric in their approach.

Captchas were invented to protect websites from spam. However, like the well-meaning invention of nuclear fusion, captchas too got some unethical and destructive side effects. Here’s why captchas suck and what to do instead.

Why CAPTCHA Sucks

Like many CAPTCHAs, this one was impossible to read. Also until I pointed it out my wife didn’t realize she could reload an alternative one. The alternative was no better. Neither was the third or fourth.

We switched to the audio version in the hopes that would help. It didn’t. It is beyond me how anybody with a visual impairment could decipher that noise! CAPTCHA is in no way accessible.

To make matters worse my wife was trying to complete this task on a mobile device. Refreshing the CAPTCHA was fiddly. Each time she had to reselect the field to make another guess. She also had to wait for the page to reload over the poor 3G connection.

It is not that my wife is an outlier. 38% of people fail to complete a CAPTCHA first time. From there, things get even worse. 80% of second attempts fail, 70% of third attempts and 90% of the fourth. Few are willing to try more than five times and who can blame them. And that was on a desktop. Imagine what the failure rate is on a mobile device. A device where the CAPTCHA picture is smaller and even harder to read.

But CAPTCHA isn’t just frustrating for the user. It is also bad for business. When Reddit removed CAPTCHA from its signup process they saw an 8% increase. That means CAPTCHA was driving away almost 10% of people.

Why CAPTCHA is unnecessary

Security alternatives

I have already mentioned Touch ID as an alternative for mobile devices. But there are many more low tech options. Texting or emailing an authentication code is a common solution especially with lost passwords.

Time limits between attempts or limiting the number of attempts prevent brute force attacks. Although not perfect these are better than CAPTCHA which has proven breakable.

SPAM prevention

When it comes to SPAM there are alternatives to CAPTCHA. Alternatives such as solving basic puzzles or using pictures. But these alternatives miss the point. They are still making spam the users problem. Why should the user be inconvenienced because we have a problem with spam?

Why CAPTCHA Is Evil And Must Die

CAPTCHA is familiar to many of us in the form of on-screen messages asking for a sequence of letters to be typed, and in theory, means that systems can prevent registration by non-human automated systems. In reality, it usually means swearing repeatedly at the screen because the characters you can see are unreadable and you’re wasting time trying to sign into a service you already use. (Again, Google, thanks for nothing.)

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) is spearheading a campaign to push for organizations in Australia to abandon CAPTCHA in favor of more accessible alternatives. ACCAN has partnered with Blind Citizens Australia, Media Access Australia, Able Australia and the Australian Deafblind Council for the initiative, which includes an online petition opposing the use of CAPTCHA.

Captchas hurt conversions

So captchas exclude many users with disabilities. This should be the only reason you need to seriously question their existence. But let’s look at another serious problem: it’s a conversion rate killer.

Everyone struggle with captchas, not just people with disabilities. Many have conducted A/B tests and shown how they hurt conversion rates.

So – not surprisingly – captchas will lower your conversions. That – to most organizations – means less revenue. Another awesome reason to seriously question captchas.