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Posted by Michael Bloch in online world (Saturday May 26, 2007 )

CAPTCHA is a spam protection method used on forms that displays images with distorted text that the user must decipher in order to submit the form. The reCAPTCHA MailHide project makes protecting your email address from spambots and email address harvesting systems an easy task – and the service is free.

Using reCAPTCHA Mailhide is very simple to set up – simply visit this page and input the email address you wish to protect. The end result is a URL you can embed in a link and when clicked on, the person must solve a simple CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart) in order to view your email address. Here’s an example:

Click to view my email address

Or, a more elegant implementation that makes use of a popup window:

Click to view my email address

The service is provided free by the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. You can also register for an API or plugin (including one for WordPress) that will add full CAPTCHA capabilities to your existing forms.

The benefits of using a service such as this rather than implementing your own CAPTCHA system is all the images are generated on their server (no overhead on yours), security upgrades are handled by the reCAPTCHA folks and they also have IP address filtering and detection methods in place.

I’ve seen a couple of similar services around, but they’ve been very slow to load the images or the images are very difficult to see. An added benefit of the reCAPTCHA service is an audio feature for the visually impaired or those with literacy challenges that reads back a set of numbers that can be input instead of the words.

A very interesting twist to this service is that each time it’s used, it’s also helping to digitize old books and manuscripts. Confused? I was too; you can read more about this aspect of the project here.


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