What Begat Amazon’s Mechanical Turk

I’m fond of the virtual sweatshop Amazon just launched via Mechanical Turk, but the progenitor of this stuff online is, as is almost always the case in technology, the porn industry. Here’s Cory at BoingBoing from January of 2004:

Someone told me about an ingenious way that spammers were cracking “captchas” — the distorted graphic words that a human being has to key into a box before Yahoo and Hotmail and similar services will give her a free email account. The idea is to require a human being and so prevent spammers from automatically generating millions of free email accounts.

The ingenious crack is to offer a free porn site which requires that you key in the solution to a captcha — which has been inlined from Yahoo or Hotmail — before you can gain access. Free porn sites attract lots of users around the clock, and the spammers were able to generate captcha solutions fast enough to create as many throw-away email accounts as they wanted.

Mind you, compensating people at $0.03 per photo selected for the mind-numbing work of screening pictures of San Diego may not attract as many laborers as solving a captcha to see naked aerobics. Tough call, really.

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