In this article, we will take a look at reCAPTCHA, a bot protection service provided by Google, and explore potentially superior alternatives to it. We will thoroughly analyze and discuss the features and limitations of Google reCAPTCHA in terms of security, privacy, accessibility and usability.

Overview of reCAPTCHA

Google reCAPTCHA is the most popular CAPTCHA solution. Its purpose is to differentiate real users from bots through human and bot behavior. It is used by countless websites on the Internet. Like other CAPTCHAs, it commonly protects forms such as web forms, login pages, and checkout processes from unwanted requests, also known as spam. Google offers it for free to small non-enterprise websites, while larger and enterprise customers pay on a per-request basis.

The original version known as Google reCAPTCHA v1 image CAPTCHA, was based on visual challenges where genuine users had to read distorted text or recognize images that matched a given description. Starting with Google reCAPTCHA v2, so-called Invisible CAPTCHAs were introduced that do not require humans to solve the CAPTCHA challenge. Instead of having to manually solve a challenge, information is collected and behavior analyzed to determine whether it’s contact form spam, web page spam, bot attacks or neither.

While reCAPTCHA v2 still shows a visual challenge if the user is deemed to be risky, invisible reCAPTCHA v3 doesn’t need user interaction. Instead, it tracks the user’s behavior such as the time it takes to form submission. Therefore, it hands over this responsibility to the website owner by outputting a risk score from 0 to 1 for each user. The site owner then has to decide whether or not to let the visitor submit the form based on this score. With this arbitrary categorization, some visitors above a certain threshold are inadvertently locked out. The result is a terrible user experience and false positives. By adding additional visual challenges for customers to solve, this problem can theoretically be avoided. However, we end up with the same accessibility and UX problem we started with.

The Need for a CAPTCHA Alternative to Google reCAPTCHA

Google is often being criticized for not respecting the privacy of its users and reCAPTCHA is no exception to that. To make the invisible reCAPTCHA possible, Google has to collect and analyze personal data about the user. This involves the use of various cookies, which has been criticized by data protection authorities around the world. It is a privacy concern for operators looking to avoid privacy concerns and to comply with privacy standards such as GDPR, CCPA, and HIPAA.

Additionally, websites and web services targeting EU users face challenges in complying with GDPR. The biggest problem for GDPR compliance is that reCAPTCHA transfers personal data to Google servers outside the European Economic Area, in the United States.

At the same time, Google isn’t very transparent about what data it collects and where it’s processed. They do not have a separate privacy policy for their CAPTCHA service, there is only one privacy policy for all of their services that doesn’t mention reCAPTCHA explicitly. If you’re not able to inform your users how the data is processed, you’re in violation of GDPR and are therefore not allowed to use Google reCAPTCHA.

In 2023, the French Commission Nationale Informatique & Libertés (CNIL) determined that reCAPTCHA is not GDPR compliant. To be compliant, you need to inform your users what data is being collected and how it’s processed. This is almost impossible because Google doesn’t disclose this information.

Depending on how you configure Google reCAPTCHA, there is a chance that real users will still be asked to solve a visual challenge. This can be a problem for visually impaired users, and while reCAPTCHA offers an alternative audio CAPTCHA, it’s still not accessible to all users.

The Search for Google reCAPTCHA Alternatives

What Are We Looking For in the Best reCAPTCHA Alternative?

When looking for a user-friendly alternative CAPTCHA service to Google’s reCAPTCHA to protect your forms from unwanted form submissions, there are several factors to consider. These include the user experience, accessibility, privacy, availability, and security.

From a user experience and accessibility standpoint, we are looking for a CAPTCHA that interferes with the experience of the user as little as possible. We don’t want real users to have to solve visual puzzles by hand, and at best we don’t want them to have to interact with the CAPTCHA at all. While reCAPTCHA v3 does not use visual challenges, it does create new problems, such as locking some users out completely.

A CAPTCHA that works completely in the background, does not slow down the user, and requires no interaction would be optimal. This would provide the best user experience and make the CAPTCHA accessible to all users, including the elderly and those with health conditions and disabilities.

The privacy and data protection mechanisms are also important. We don’t want a third party collecting customers’ information without transparency about how that data is processed and where it is stored. Google is not particularly known for respecting the privacy of its user’s and relies on data collection to support its advertising business. It’s possible that the data collected by reCAPTCHA will also be used for these purposes.

The main function of a CAPTCHA is, obviously, to protect websites from unwanted requests, malicious traffic, bots, spambots and spam. When choosing a CAPTCHA service, security is an important factor. We want to protect internet forms like contact forms, registration forms and checkout processes and prevent automated bot attacks.

Overall, we want a CAPTCHA service to focus on bot protection. We don’t want it to be an excuse to collect more user information to support other parts of the business. There should be a real incentive for the company behind it to continually maintain and improve it.

Introducing Friendly Captcha: A reCAPTCHA Alternative

What is Friendly Captcha?

Friendly Captcha is an EU-based CAPTCHA service with a focus on accessibility and privacy. It relies on a sophisticated proof-of-work-based algorithm to generate invisible, cryptographic puzzles that the user’s device must solve in the background to prove that it is not a malicious attacker, bot, or spambot. These cryptographic puzzles are used in combination with advanced risk signals and difficulty scaling to provide bot protection, spam protection and spam prevention for web interactions such as logins, checkout processes, or contact forms.

Instead of visitors having to manually solve CAPTCHA challenges like clicking on cars or traffic lights, Friendly Captcha works completely in the background and is invisible. The impact on the UX is minimal, and human users should rarely have to wait more than a few seconds. Usually, the invisible CAPTCHA is solved before the visitor has even filled out the form.

This way, Friendly Captcha is accessible to all people and doesn’t degrade the user experience, while still protecting you from unwanted spam entries, bots and bot traffic. For example, without protection, bots take over accounts thorugh credential stuffing attacks by testing stolen usernames and passwords.

How Friendly Captcha Compares to reCAPTCHA

While Friendly Captcha and reCAPTCHA are both used for bot protection and spam prevention, Friendly Captcha takes a radically different approach to how it achieves this.

reCAPTCHA relies heavily on collecting and analyzing as much information as possible about each user as possible and tracking them around the web to guess if they are a real human users. Friendly Captcha, on the other hand, collects only the information that is strictly necessary to provide its bot protection service. It uses cryptographic puzzles in the background combined with advanced risk signals to stop spam, bots threats, brute force attacks and other types of unwanted requests.

In terms of user experience and accessibility, reCAPTCHA v3 Enterprise and Friendly Captcha are similar. Both will not require the user to solve a visual puzzle by hand to stop spam and protect against bots. If reCAPTCHA v2 is used, it might still display a visual challenge if it cannot collect enough information about the user.

Google reCAPTCHA v3 produces a risk score between 0 and 1 for each user. Then the website owner must decide whether or not to allow the users to submit the form. This can be problematic, as users who are considered risky will be locked out completely. In this case, operators can add additional challenges, such as visual puzzles, to prevent accidental lockout if the risk score is exceeded. The need to implement another protection mechanism in such cases pretty much defeats the purpose of using reCAPTCHA v3. Friendly Captcha on the other hand will never lock users out completely, but will instead scale the difficulty of the background puzzles based on its advanced risk signals. This makes Friendly Captcha accessible to all types of genuine users, while keeping spam and bots out.

A key differentiator between Friendly Captcha and Google reCAPTCHA is privacy compliance. Google is known for collecting and analyzing user information to power their advertising business, and reCAPTCHA is likely to be no exception. The code that site owners need to embed into their site to use reCAPTCHA is served from the google.com domain, which means that all cookies linked to that domain can be accessed by other Google services as well. In this way, website owners who use reCAPTCHA enable Google to track their visitors and contribute to its tracking network.

In addition, Google doesn’t have a privacy policy specific to reCAPTCHA, but interested parties will have to read through and understand the rather long privacy policy used for all Google products at once. The word “reCAPTCHA” is not explicitly mentioned in Google’s privacy policy. This makes it difficult to understand what data is collected, how it’s processed, and where it’s stored. Friendly Captcha, on the other hand, focuses on privacy and is completely transparent about its privacy practices.

For websites looking to comply with data protection standards like GDPR, CCPA, and HIPAA, the fact that Google uses distributed data centers all around the world can be a problem. While requests are typically handled by data centers near the user’s location, there are no guarantees about which data centers will handle which request. This can result in end-user data being transferred to countries that are considered high risk under GDPR.

Advantages of Friendly Captcha over reCAPTCHA

GDPR Compliance: The Benefit of an EU Provider

Friendly Captcha is fully GDPR compliant and does not require additional user consent. It is transparent about what data is collected and where it’s stored, and does not hide any of this from the user. Google reCAPTCHA is not transparent about this, and relies heavily on processing user information.

Friendly Captcha is an EU CAPTCHA provider, built and hosted in Germany, and does not rely on any third parties outside of the EU. This means that your users’ data will never leave the European Union, while your website and forms are protected from bots and spam.

Superior Usability: Making CAPTCHA Friendlier

In terms of usability and good user experience, Friendly Captcha has several advantages. It has little to no impact on the user experience and will never lock anyone out. While Google reCAPTCHA leaves the responsibility to run additional checks for risky users to the site owner, Friendly Captcha automatically scales the difficulty of the cryptographic puzzles that the end user’s device must solve in the background. Most site visitors will not experience any slowdown, as Friendly Captcha is often finished before the visitor is even ready to submit the form. This makes Friendly Captcha the more human friendly alternative to Google reCAPTCHA.

Full Accessibility: A Truly Inclusive reCAPTCHA Alternative

When using Google reCAPTCHA v2, most users who are considered risky must solve a visual puzzle to prove that they are a human. These challenges can be difficult to solve and especially visually or motorically impaired people are effectively locked out. While reCAPTCHA v3 does not use these types of challenges directly, there is also no built-in accessible way to challenge users with a task in risky cases.

Friendly Captcha on the other hand is fully accessible out of the box and does never lock users out. The cryptographic puzzle runs completely in the background and additional advanced risk signals scale up the difficulty of the background puzzle in risky cases. This way, visually and motorically impaired people are not discriminated or locked out in any way.

Privacy: Understanding the Importance of GDPR Compliance

The challenges with reCAPTCHA and GDPR

GDPR compliance is crucial for websites targeting users in the EU, in order to protect their right to privacy. Without being GDPR compliant, companies operating in the European Union risk significant fines.

Google generates the majority of its revenue from advertising, especially targeted advertising. To do this, they collect as much information as possible about page visitors across their many services in order to show each person the ad that they are most likely to interact with. reCAPTCHA Enterprise is part of the Google universe and is served from the google.com domain. This implies that reCAPTCHA can be used to collect information for targeted ads.

To use Google reCAPTCHA, the website owner must embed and dynamically load a script from the google.com servers. It means that the browser of each person who visits the site will connect with Google’s US servers, download the script, and run it on their local computer. This is a risk because this request may already send personal information to Google servers outside the EU, and it also creates an unnecessary attack surface. Attackers could potentially modify this script and inject arbitrary code into the browser while visiting the site to steal their information.

The use of Google reCAPTCHA cookies is considered critical under GDPR and ePrivacy laws, and typically results in the need for user consent, creating additional integration challenges for website owners.

The fact that reCAPTCHA is served from the google.com domain allows Google to set and access cookies across all sites that use reCAPTCHA or any other Google service like Google analytics. This allows the company to track the behavior and interests of users on websites it does not directly operate.

How Friendly Captcha Ensures GDPR Compliance

Privacy is one of the core strengths of Friendly Captcha, and it is GDPR-compliant out of the box. It doesn’t set any HTTP cookies and doesn’t store any local data in the browser’s persistent storage. Therefore, it doesn’t require user consent.

Friendly Captcha is a German company, and it only relies on data centers located in the EU. The same goes for all services that it depends on to process end-user data. This means that for EU websites embedding Friendly Captcha, no sensitive information is ever transferred to risky countries according to European regulations such as the US.

Friendly Captcha discloses what information is collected, how it is processed, and what third parties are involved. There are no secrets or hidden surprises when integrating it into your website. To comply with GDPR, all you need to do is add Friendly Captcha to your privacy policy.

Usability: A Key Factor in Choosing a reCAPTCHA Alternative

Usability Challenges with reCAPTCHA

reCAPTCHA v3 Enterprise itself does not require the user to manually solve a puzzle when filling out web forms such as contact forms, registration pages, or checkout processes. This is a welcome usability improvement over earlier versions of traditional image CAPTCHAs and reCAPTCHA v2. Instead, it outputs a risk score based on all the information it can gather about the visitor and their behavior. This score can then be used by the operator to apply custom verification methods or additional challenges.

While this sounds great, in practice reCAPTCHA v3 simply puts the real burden of challenging site visitors on the site owner. The site owner can decide to exclude some visitors with a risk score above a certain threshold, but this will result in a terrible user experience for those visitors. Another option would be to require high-risk users to solve an additional image labeling challenge, such as selecting traffic lights or cars, but then we end up with the same usability problem we started with.

An effective CAPTCHA solution must ensure that false positives, i.e. real users mistakenly identified as bots, are not accidentally blocked. When looking for reCAPTCHA alternatives, you should make sure that users are never locked out.

reCAPTCHA is not transparent about how it calculates its risk score and what information it uses. What we do know is that it produces a lower risk score when you’re logged in to your Google account, which shows that Google definitely uses information outside of reCAPTCHA itself.

A truly user-friendly and accessible CAPTCHA should be an all-in-one solution that challenges risky users in an accessible way, but doesn’t interfere with UX.

The User-Friendly Approach of Friendly Captcha

The reCAPTCHA alternative Friendly Captcha is truly invisible and never employs puzzles that have to be solved manually by the user. Instead, it uses a combination of cryptographic puzzles and advanced difficulty scaling to detect and prevent spam, bots, brute force attacks and more. Compared to reCAPTCHA Enterprise, Friendly Captcha can dynamically increase the difficulty of its cryptographic puzzles to fight more advanced bots.

The cryptographic puzzles are solved in the background while a web form is being filled. Therefore, there is no bad user experience. In most cases, users will not even notice that a CAPTCHA is being used and will be able to submit the form immediately after filling it out.

Accessibility: Making CAPTCHA Available for All

Accessibility Issues with reCAPTCHA

reCAPTCHA v3 with its invisible reCAPTCHA promises to be fully accessible to all kinds of users because no visual challenges are employed. While this is true on the surface, looking deeper it seems like a misleading claim. It has no built-in way to challenge visitors, it only outputs a risk score to the website administrator who then has to decide what action they want to take.

The site administrator is fully responsible for running additional checks based on the risk score, and many will simply choose to exclude anyone with a risk score above a certain threshold. This results in a poor user experience, as legitimate users may be blocked from using the service they want to access. In particular, this affects people with disabilities who use accessibility tools, as well as people who value their privacy and prefer not to share information with Google. Another option is to use reCAPTCHA v2 as a fallback to v3 when an Internet user has a risk score above a certain threshold. This is better than banning legitimate users completely, but comes with the same accessibility issues as using only reCAPTCHA v2.

To make the experience of using reCAPTCHA v3 fully accessible, there would need to be an accessible fallback challenge that is used based on the user’s risk score. While this is theoretically possible, it’s up to the site administrator to implement it.

How Friendly Captcha Ensures Full Accessibility

Friendly Captcha, on the other hand, has all the requirements for full accessibility built in. It is a WCAG compliant CAPTCHA. Similar to reCAPTCHA v3, it uses advanced risk signals to analyze the user and internally generates a risk score for each one. Unlike Google reCAPTCHA, it has a built-in cryptographic challenge that the site visitor’s device can solve in the background. The difficulty of this background challenge is determined based on the risk signals to protect against advanced bots and automated scripts.

As a result, legitimate users have a seamless experience while unwanted spam and bots are defeated. By using Friendly Captcha you contribute to an open and accessible web.

How to Transition from reCAPTCHA to Friendly Captcha

Step-By-Step Guide for Transitioning

Friendly Captcha is a drop-in replacement for reCAPTCHA and traditional CAPTCHAs. With its simple API, it will only take a few minutes to make the transition for most websites and applications.

Create an Account at Friendly Captcha

To use Friendly Captcha, you first need to create an account at https://friendlycaptcha.com/signup. When you sign up, you can choose between different plans, each with a 30-day trial period. If you are looking for a GDPR-compliant CAPTCHA that guarantees that your user’s data will never be transferred outside the EU.

Create an Application and API Key

After creating your Friendly Captcha account, you can sign in to your Friendly Captcha dashboard at https://friendlycaptcha.com and create an application and an API key.

An application is used to configure how the CAPTCHA will work on your website. After you have created the application, copy the sitekey and keep it in a safe place, we will need it later.

The API key is used in your backend to talk to the Friendly Captcha API and verify the CAPTCHA solution. After creating the API key, copy it and keep it in a safe place, we will need it later as well.

Swap Out the Client Code

To use Friendly Captcha in your website, you first need to replace the JavaScript library provided by reCAPTCHA with the Friendly Captcha one.

				
					- <script src="https://www.google.com/recaptcha/api.js"></script>
				
			
				
					+ <script data-minify="1" type="module" src="https://friendlycaptcha.com/wp-content/cache/min/1/npm/friendly-challenge@0.9.14/widget.module.min.js?ver=1721642082" async defer></script>
+ <script data-minify="1" nomodule src="https://friendlycaptcha.com/wp-content/cache/min/1/npm/friendly-challenge@0.9.14/widget.min.js?ver=1721642082" async defer></script>
				
			

You are now ready to add the new Friendly Captcha widget. Make sure to replace <your sitekey> with the sitekey you received after creating the application in the Friendly Captcha dashboard. If you have used reCAPTCHA on multiple pages, make sure to update all of them.

				
					+ <div data-sitekey="<your sitekey>"></div>
				
			

Change the Backend Verification

To verify the CAPTCHA solutions, you need some code in your backend that calls the Friendly Captcha API. It is very similar to the way reCAPTCHA works, but it also needs to be updated. This depends a lot on what programming language and framework you are using on the backend, please take a look at our documentation to see what you need to change.

For a more detailed guide on how to integrate Friendly Captcha check out our documentation. If you are using a CMS like WordPress, read our list of pre-built integrations including installation guides.

The Benefits of Making the Switch – Protect Your Contact Forms, Registration Forms or Login Pages

By following these steps and taking a few minutes to replace reCAPTCHA with Friendly Captcha, you can enjoy the benefits of choosing the friendliest CAPTCHA solution and one of the best reCAPTCHA alternatives out there. Your users will see an improvement in usability and accessibility by not having to interact with the CAPTCHA, and you will have an easier time complying with privacy standards such as GDPR, CCPA, and HIPAA.

Conclusion

Summarizing the Advantages of Friendly Captcha Over reCAPTCHA

Friendly Captcha pioneers a new CAPTCHA technology and is therefore the friendlier and better alternative to other CAPTCHA services like reCAPTCHA. It achieves this by focusing on usability, accessibility, and privacy without compromising on security.

  • Seamless user experience because users don’t have to solve visual puzzles by hand.
  • Fully WCAG compliant and accessible to everyone by completely eliminating manual tasks for users.
  • Easy compliance with privacy laws like GDPR and CCPA.
  • For EU users, GDPR compliance is maintained as personal user data never leaves the EU.
  • No HTTP cookies, no persistent browser storage, and no fingerprinting.
  • Works out of the box without the need for user consent.

Final Thoughts on Why Friendly Captcha Is a Superior reCAPTCHA Alternative

Friendly Captcha is superior to reCAPTCHA in terms of usability, accessibility and privacy.

reCAPTCHA’s technology requires manual interactions by users in certain scenarios and fallback cases. In contrast, Friendly Captcha uses cryptographic puzzles that are truly invisible and solved in the background by the user’s device. This way, the user experience is never compromised.

Due to the manual challenges and the division into two rigid risk groups – bot or human – reCAPTCHA hardly achieves accessibility. This excludes many people such as blind and elderly users from important Internet services. Friendly Captcha uses a revolutionary technological approach and is therefore accessible to everyone and WCAG compliant.

Extensive data processing, the use of cookies and risky data transfer – this is why Google and its reCAPTCHA solution are criticized by data protection authorities worldwide. Friendly Captcha, on the other hand, is fully compliant with privacy regulations such as GDPR and CCPA, does not require prior user consent, and guarantees transparent and secure data processing.

If you want to try Friendly Captcha for yourself, you can watch the live demo or sign up for a free one-month trial to integrate Friendly Captcha into your websites.

FAQ

There are several alternatives to reCAPTCHA that will protect your website from unwanted access. These include honeypots, anti-spam plugins, fingerprinting and professional bot protection solutions. One managed bot protection solution is Friendly Captcha. It is one of the most sophisticated proof of work based solutions on the market. It is a GDPR-compliant, accessible and user-friendly alternative to reCAPTCHA.

Friendly Captcha seems to be a better alternative to reCAPTCHA. In contrast to Google reCAPTCHA, Friendly Captcha takes privacy very seriously. Friendly Captcha doesn’t use HTTP cookies, persistent browser storage, or fingerprinting. Friendly Captcha as a security measure effectively keeps spam and bots out while maintaining UX, accessibility and privacy standards such as GDPR.

Instead of reCAPTCHA, you can use a variety of protection methods. These include rate limiting, fingerprinting, honeypots, image recognition, or managed bot protection solutions. To stay ahead of increasingly advanced bots, every company needs to find the right anti-bot tool. Friendly Captcha is the only sophisticated proof-of-work-based CAPTCHA on the market that combines cryptography and risk signals with full privacy protection to secure web forms from attacks. Instead of letting the user solve puzzles manually, Friendly Captcha generates a cryptographic puzzle in the background that is solved by the user’s browser. Based on technical signals, the difficulty of the puzzle can be scaled to make it harder for suspected bots to get through. Friendly Captcha is fully GDPR compliant and does not require prior user consent to operate.

While reCAPTCHA and most CAPTCHAs suffer from poor usability and accessibility, there are now modern solutions and alternatives to CAPTCHAs without these problems. Friendly Captcha is an alternative to traditional CAPTCHAs or reCAPTCHA. It scores with high security and privacy standards in compliance with GDPR, while ensuring an undisturbed UX.