Google’s new reCAPTCHA has a dark side

Perona views Google’s use of reCaptcha as an “online land grab” that strengthens Google’s hold over the internet. He thinks reCaptcha is similar in this way to other Google products like Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), a program to make news sites’ pages load faster on mobile devices but has caused some consternation from publishers over whether Google is taking web traffic away from news sites. Same goes for Google Chrome, which the Washington Post recently called “surveillance software” (I’m among those who have ditched Chrome for Firefox).

“It’s always a double-edged sword,” Perona says. “You gain something, but you’re also giving Google a little more control over everything online.” The gain is security and a better user experience, but privacy may suffer.

Katharine Schwab, Fast Company

The latest version of the bot detector reCaptcha is invisible to users and has spread to more than 650,000 websites. It’s great for security—but not so great for your privacy.

Why I’m done with Chrome

This post has gone on more than long enough, but before I finish I want to address two common counterarguments I’ve heard from people I generally respect in this area.

One argument is that Google already spies on you via cookies and its pervasive advertising network and partnerships, so what’s the big deal if they force your browser into a logged-in state? One individual I respect described the Chrome change as “making you wear two name tags instead of one”. I think this objection is silly both on moral grounds — just because you’re violating my privacy doesn’t make it ok to add a massive new violation — but also because it’s objectively silly. Google has spent millions of dollars adding additional tracking features to both Chrome and Android. They aren’t doing this for fun; they’re doing this because it clearly produces data they want.

The other counterargument (if you want to call it that) goes like this: I’m a n00b for using Google products at all, and of course they were always going to do this. The extreme version holds that I ought to be using lynx+Tor and DJB’s custom search engine, and if I’m not I pretty much deserve what’s coming to me.

I reject this argument. I think It’s entirely possible for a company like Google to make good, usable open source software that doesn’t massively violate user privacy. For ten years I believe Google Chrome did just this.

Why they’ve decided to change, I don’t know. It makes me sad.

Matthew Green