The independent hCaptcha service

Over a billion people don't realize that they have a part-time job working for Google, and now there's a competitor. Through CAPTCHA forms, Google has, over the years, digitized old books for Google Books, digitized address photos on Google Maps that it couldn’t automatically read, and most recently improved its algorithms for its self-driving car company Waymo, which was recently valued at $30B. In total, Google gets over 100 person-years of labor every day, nearly for free, through its CAPTCHA services.

While Google’s CAPTCHAs help prevent bot traffic, some site owners are not especially happy to have their visitors do free labor for Google, and they're switching to hCAPTCHA, a competitor with a more direct business model.

Block bot traffic

hCAPTCHA is the largest independent CAPTCHA service, now running on a whopping 15% of the Internet. Part of the reason for this is its partnership with Cloudflare, a large web infrastructure company whose product helps protect sites from surges in traffic (whether caused by legitimate users or hostile denial-of-service attacks). Cloudflare chose them not just because it would keep the company less entangled with Google as a business, but also because it would keep users from being caught in a regulatory crossfire—China has periodically banned or impeded Google services, and that meant that some Cloudflare users would see a set of their customers cut off from sites because they couldn't access CAPTCHAs. Since China has over 20% of the world’s Internet users, this was a big problem.

The two services also differ significantly on pricing. Any site that uses Google’s CAPTCHA service to block bot traffic must start paying for the service once they exceed 1M uses per month and hCaptcha’s pricing is less than half that of Google’s.

The CAPTCHA business is part of a strange modern arms race: as more of the online world gets automated, we spend more of our time proving to robots that we're actually humans.


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