Google's Street View address reading software also able to decipher CAPTCHAs

Apr 17, 2014 by Bob Yirka report
Google’s Street View address reading software also able to decipher CAPTCHAs
CAPTCHA images correctly solved by the algorithm

( —Google engineers working on software to automatically read home and business addresses off photographs taken by Street View vehicles, have created a product so good that not only can it be used for address reading, it can solve CAPTCHAs, as well.

CAPTCHAs are, of course, words that have been intentionally distorted presented to live humans who wish to enter a —to gain access, they must correctly type the word into a box. CAPTCHAs are believed to be difficult if not impossible for spam bots to decipher, thus they serve to protect the site—at least for now.

It's sort of ironic actually, that software has inadvertently been created that thwarts the efforts of other software engineers attempting to keep spam bots from accessing web sites. The finding was posted by Google Product Manager Vinay Shet on the Google blog.

To make Google Street View (part of Google Maps) ever smarter, engineers have been hard at work developing a sophisticated based on both prior research and new image recognition techniques. The aim is to make Google's products more accurate. To display an image of a house or building given an address by a user takes a lot of computer smarts—Google connects new addresses to older known addresses, constantly updating its databases. Presumably, the goal is to map every building in the known world to an address. But the work has produced an unexpected by-product, the very same software developed for Street View can also be used to decipher CAPTCHAs with 96 percent accuracy (98.8 percent when working on Google's own reCAPTCHA).

Street View numbers correctly identified by the algorithm

This is good news, Shet writes, because it highlights a weakness in CAPTCHA as a means of protecting web sites. Google, he notes, has already added new hurdles for humans to jump before allowing entry, enough to keep bots, and presumably Street View neural network software, out as well. Not mentioned is if Google is perhaps also working on learning why it is that so many people and enterprises are working so diligently on creating spam bots and if something might be done to persuade them to aim their efforts at more profitable ventures.

Explore further: reCAPTCHA eases up on the human eye

More information: Google Blog post: googleonlinesecurity.blogspot.… tcha-technology.html
Arxiv paper:

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User comments : 5

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5 / 5 (2) Apr 17, 2014
Bots look at the code of the page and not the actual image.
I've read somewhere that this is being used to confound bots by adding intentional, additional fields to fill in that are not visible to humans. Anyone trying to fill in these fields is automatically a bot.
not rated yet Apr 17, 2014
96 percent!!!!!
That's better than me.
However, I do believe this story got Google's intention and the side-effect switched.
not rated yet Apr 18, 2014
Best wishes for success. I wouldn't be surprised if annoying and feckless captchas will be with us for a long time, just like passwords and the poorly thought out rules people mandate to try to induce entropy into them
not rated yet Apr 18, 2014
Does this mean we can finally stop having to enter those damn things?!
not rated yet Apr 19, 2014
96 percent!!!!!
That's better than me.

Yea, no kidding. Googles captcha specifically was one of the most frustrating I've ever used (may have improved it since my last use). Im close to 100% for the ones that allow a small, say one character even, margin of error though. Those are much nicer.