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The Underground CAPTCHA Industry

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Humans can solve them, computers cannot, or so we've been led to believe. Yes, I'm talking about CAPTCHAs, those annoying puzzles you see whenever you post something to Craigslist, or even try to leave a comment on this blog. Originally designed to block spam, Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart, or CAPTCHAs, come in handy in protecting Web sites against bots.

As of this year, 90 percent of e-mail traffic is spam. So anything that helps stop spammers is good, right? Perhaps.

CAPTCHAs have given way to an underground industry booming in places like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, Brazil, Nigeria, and Russia, where scores of people are hired to solve these Captcha and, subsequently, flood the internet with even more spam. These people work for embarrassingly low wages, practically pennies— in return for doing tedious work.

Web sites like India-based, offer a "do-it-yourself" guide to solving CAPTCHAs. In theory, these guides could be used by CAPTCHA organizations to train their employees, as well. The site offers $2 for every 1,000 CAPTCHAs solved. Those who register with the site only pay for CAPTCHAs that are correctly decoded.


There's a company in Delhi, India, that calls itself the "Ccapt Team." They look for individuals to do CAPTCHA data entry and claim to pay, on a weekly basis, $1 for every 1,000 Captcha entries.

CAPTCHA companies have created many ads all over the internet. The ads serve as the primary tool used to recruit their workers. In one example, an ad asks for long-term CAPTCHA work, requesting only large teams that will work from 4 p.m. to 11 a.m. (India Standard Time). They are looking for employees who can work from their homes in India, Sri Lanka or the Philippines. The terms also require that they are professionals or able to work part-time.

Another company 's ad lists several "rules and regulations" necessary for successful employment. They include: a "1 day trial work for eligibility." The other requirements consist of an invitation for "serious" bidders to bid due to the fact it is a long-term project. Twice-weekly payments are promised.

Many of these CAPTCHA solvers make much more money than they do at their legal data-processing 'day jobs.

Dr. Luis Von Ahn, who helped create CAPTCHA nine years ago at Carnegie Mellon University, calls such companies "Captcha Sweatshops." Of course, not every CAPTCHA-solving organization is designed for malicious purposes. For instance, there's the American-based site called whose goal is to automatically translate CAPTCHA images into simple text for the purpose of helping the one million blind people who live in the United States. Screen reading software would read the text for them, so the blind would be able to understand each CAPTCHA image.

And on this blog, we use reCAPTCHA, a service that helps to digitize books, newspapers and old time radio shows. By offering up words that cannot be read by computers to you, the CAPTCHA solvers, each correct match feeds the database and helps the computer learn.

The only other thing I've got to say on the subject is this: who started the trend of noting interesting CAPTCHAs, or ironic CAPTCHAs (vis-à-vis a blog post, let's say) in the comments?

Would be amazing to find the very first instance.

Until then, CAPTCHyA on the flip side. (Sorry! I'd been waiting all post to write it"¦)

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25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]


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