Exclusive: Google launching reCAPTCHA for payments – and here's the deal with the annoying boxes

Alphabet's (GOOG, GOOGL) Google is expanding the availability of reCAPTCHA, and the verification technology will now be able to, for the first time, protect payments.

Jess Leroy, Google senior director of product management, spoke to Yahoo Finance exclusively about the announcement, which will make reCAPTCHA accessible to both prevent fraud and to secure and encourage online sales for both large and small businesses.

“The new thing that we’re doing right now is that we’re going through and leveraging all sorts of Google fraud protections, our own models that we use internally at Google,” he said. “We’re using our large language modeling techniques. We build models around all these different types of attacks, and then we’ve got the intelligence from across the 6 million sites that use reCAPTCHA all the time. We can leverage all these protections against different types of transactions for the first time.”

'I am not a robot'

A quick primer on terminology here: CAPTCHA stands for "completely automated public Turing Test to tell computers and humans apart," and it's a security measure (often asking users to select specific images) in order to tell – as the acronym suggests – the difference between humans and bots that could be a cybersecurity risk. On the other hand, reCAPTCHA is Google's specific iteration of the technology, most famously featuring the "I'm not a robot" checkbox.

There have been three versions of reCAPTCHA to date, and that checkbox is getting harder and harder to find – and that's intentional, since, well, no one likes an extra step. So, where does the checkbox go if, now in version three, we’re no longer seeing it, and how can we be sure it will protect our money?

“We have the ability to pull patterns that are similar for that customer, saying ‘looks like other people have that same pattern, here’s a dataset for analysis.' Then, with this new thing, the fraud prevention piece, if they get through the entire system and they get to the payment transaction, we can protect that payment transaction, which is a big new thing for us,” Leroy said.

Captcha, vector illustration
Captcha, vector illustration

I wanted to know: What happens to the annoying boxes filled with pictures like crosswalks and traffic lights? As reCAPTCHA keeps improving, are they now gone forever? As it turns out, only sort of, but we will see fewer of them over time. Google's actually been phasing them out for years over different versions of reCAPTCHA, but there will perhaps always be a place for them, said Leroy.

“We have a massive installed base and people take time to update, and it’s not like we’ve pumped a world of advertising into ‘hey, go update your reCAPTCHA code,’” said Leroy. “We let the user base lead the way and it takes time. We’re up in the adoption curve, where we expected to be on version three.”

So, as more updates happen, fewer annoying traffic light boxes, cool. However, for security reasons, they may never go away entirely, said Leroy. “The other thing is that there are still cases in which friction isn’t a bad thing. Of course, we always want to provide a friction-free experience, but there are a couple of exceptions. If you’re in the financial services business, you can provide comfort to your customers in an additional layer of interaction and the same is true if you’re in healthcare, protecting records.”

Allie Garfinkle is a Senior Tech Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @agarfinks and on LinkedIn.

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