Startup Replaces CAPTCHAs with Ads

Automated spam bots have made CAPTCHAs — those garbled strings of random text that users have to type in to prove they’re human — an annoying reality online. But one startup hopes to change all that with something slightly less annoying: Advertising.

Solve Media revealed its new TYPE-IN ad platform on Monday, which replaces CAPTCHAs with image ads containing slogans and phrases. If a user needs to prove they’re human, they type the slogan into the box.

“We’ve been testing and measuring for the better part of 9 months” to get the system ready, said CEO Ari Jacoby. Users “solve” about 280 million CAPTCHAs every day, and each one takes an average of 14 seconds, according to Jacoby. The new system aims to cut that time in half, while also providing additional revenue for publishers and greater user engagement for advertisers.

Regular CAPTCHAs are distorted to prevent automated spam software from reading them. Unfortunately it sometimes prevents normal users from reading them as well. Solve’s ad CAPTCHAs are clearly readable by humans, but each ad served has its pixels arranged slightly differently, which Jacoby says will also prevent spam bots from reading them.

There have been other attempts to improve CAPTCHAs, including the popular reCAPTCHA, which uses CAPTCHAs to help decipher text from scanned books. However this is the first ad-based CAPTCHA system we’ve seen.