Navigating the GDPR compliance maze is essential when implementing Google reCAPTCHA. This critical software tool for defending your website’s defense against bots also carries potential privacy implications under GDPR. We’re here to clarify whether reCAPTCHA can withstand the rigors of GDPR, and how you can use it without compromising user privacy.

Key Takeaways

  • Google reCAPTCHA, while effective in distinguishing human users from bots, may conflict with the GDPR’s proportionality principle due to its extensive data collection, cookie use, and transfer to US servers, necessitating transparency, consent and compliance measures.

  • The GDPR requires explicit user consent for certain data processing, cookies, and international data transfers, as seen in the use of Google reCAPTCHA. A balance between legitimate interests and user privacy must be maintained, with consent often required as the legal basis for the use of reCAPTCHA.

  • There are GDPR-compliant alternatives to Google reCAPTCHA, such as honeypots, traditional CAPTCHAs, and Friendly Captcha, which can provide a higher level of user privacy and GDPR compliance, although the variability in effectiveness must be considered.

reCAPTCHA protection system

Understanding Google reCAPTCHA and GDPR

Google reCAPTCHA, a widely used tool, serves to protect websites from bots and automated requests. It differentiates human users from bots by image marking tasks, such as clicking on cars or traffic lights, and analyzing user behavior, such as mouse navigation, click patterns, and how the user navigates. Nonetheless, the extensive data collection involved might pose a potential conflict with the GDPR’s proportionality principle emphasizing data protection and privacy.

These data collection practices demand careful consideration, as they could be deemed excessive under GDPR’s proportionality principle, which requires that data collection be adequate, relevant, and limited to what is necessary. The significance of this principle escalates when taking into account that reCAPTCHA data typically gets transferred to servers in the United States, requiring additional safeguards such as explicit consent by end users of reCAPTCHA to adhere with GDPR’s international data transfer requirements and to be able to process data.

Although Google’s reCAPTCHA proves useful in fighting spam and other forms of website abuse, it’s important for website operators to explain to their website visitor how it works, the type of data it collects, and how it interacts with GDPR requirements. Only then can they ensure that their use of this Google product is both effective and compliant with data privacy laws.

How Google reCAPTCHA Works

Google reCAPTCHA aims to identify human users and prevent automated requests, thereby helping to exclude unwanted access by automated programs and bad bots, reduce credential stuffing, avert account takeover fraud and prevent scraping. Google initially released reCAPTCHA in 2007. It is one specific kind of implementation of a CAPTCHA, which stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.”

It comes in different forms such as No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA, Invisible reCAPTCHA, Image reCAPTCHA, and Text reCAPTCHA, each offering varying levels of interaction for reCAPTCHA users and how reCAPTCHA works.

For instance, reCAPTCHA v2 requires a website visitor to solve CAPTCHA challenges when completing an action that spammers target. No CAPTCHA and Invisible reCAPTCHA versions strive for minimal user effort. Image reCAPTCHA prompts website visitors to select images containing certain objects to differentiate them from automated scripts.

Yet, the latest version, reCAPTCHA v3, appears to be an Invisible reCAPTCHA without any user interaction. So the Google product collects a large amount of end user’s data via Google reCAPTCHA cookies to challenge only those website visitors suspected to be robots. While this approach may seem advantageous, it carries heavier privacy implications as reCAPTCHA v3 tracks user behaviour and interaction across all website pages, also relies on third-party cookies. This extensive data tracking has raised concerns under General Data Protection Regulation, particularly for reCAPTCHA v3, which uses personal data extensively to discern user legitimacy.

GDPR Requirements for Processing Personal Data

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) obliges organizations to gather personal information with explicit user consent and restrict data collection to what’s essential for their services. This requirement is particularly important for Google products like reCAPTCHA, which needs user consent due to its use of cookies and international data transfer. In line with GDPR’s emphasis on transparency, a reCAPTCHA-compliant Privacy Policy must disclose the following information:

  • The collection of personal information

  • The usage of personal information

  • The safeguarding of personal information

  • Any third-party sharing of personal information

Non-compliance with these transparency requirements can lead to legal consequences, as seen with the Cityscoot case and the NS Cards France case, where the French privacy commission ruled that their use of Google reCAPTCHA did not meet GDPR transparency requirements and that they failed to obtain consent for the use of Google reCAPTCHA. The company Cityscoot was fined to €125,000 and NS Cards France was fined to €105,000 by the French Data Protection authority CNIL.

Therefore, website owners operating with end users in the EU are required by privacy laws to obtain legally valid consent for the use of cookies via a cookie banner and to specifically identify all parties that may collect, use, or receive users’ personal information.

Moreover, data processed by Google’s reCAPTCHA includes international data transfers to the US, an issue subject to debate as data of EU customers should be locally processed within the European Union.


The Legal Basis for Using Google reCAPTCHA

According to GDPR, there must be a lawful base for processing personal data. Services like Google reCAPTCHA often rely on either consent or legitimate interests as the most appropriate legal bases. However, using Google reCAPTCHA based on legitimate interests can be challenging as it may not disclose exactly why or how end user data is used.

As an alternative, consent is often used as a primary legal basis to be compliant with GDPR. Legal decisions have confirmed that Google reCAPTCHA requires user consent for data processing. Even if the user has given their consent, the use may be unlawful if the processing of personal data does not meet the requirements of the GDPR and there is no appropriate legal basis.

Understanding these legal specifications and the potential risks of non-compliance is crucial when implementing reCAPTCHA. It’s also important to remember that while reCAPTCHA may enhance website security, its usage must still adhere to privacy laws and regulations like GDPR, CPRA or PIPL.

Legitimate Interests

Under the GDPR, data processing must be necessary and proportionate to serve legitimate interests, which creates a challenge for Google reCAPTCHA to be compliant with GDPR as it may collect more personal data than needed. Google reCAPTCHA is used for protecting a website from spam, spam bots or bots, and reducing administrative work. However, these interests must be carefully assessed to ensure they do not override individual rights.

This balance between business needs and users’ rights and freedoms is delicate and complex. Hence, it’s advisable to seek professional legal advice when employing legitimate interests as a legal basis for Google reCAPTCHA under GDPR.

To use legitimate interests as a legal basis for using Google reCAPTCHA, it’s essential to carefully evaluate whether the legitimate business needs outweigh the users’ privacy rights and freedoms. Neglecting this balance can potentially lead to legal consequences and that the use is not privacy compliant.

The well-known rulings of the French Data Protection authority CNIL against Cityscoot and NS Cards France are a good example of where the boundary of legitimate interest lies.

Such court rulings clearly show that there are privacy issues with the use of reCAPTCHA. There is a lot of criticism that the browsing behavior of website users and how they navigate can also be tracked by Google reCAPTCHA cookies. This information can be used to draw conclusions about consumer behavior and display targeted advertising.

Obtaining Consent

Where the legitimate interest ends, the cookie consent requirements come into focus. Obtaining explicit user consent is crucial when processing user data via Google reCAPTCHA, as it involves the use of cookies and personal data transfer to servers located in the US. Google emphasizes the necessity of end-user consent for cookies and personal data processing when using reCAPTCHA through their EU User Consent Policy and Agreement.

To achieve GDPR compliance, the following steps are needed for reCAPTCHA cookies:

  • Use consent management platforms that block cookie-installing scripts, like Google’s reCAPTCHA, until user consent is acquired.

  • Document users’ consent for the data collected by Google reCAPTCHA.

  • Ensure that users’ consent is easily revocable, allowing them to withdraw consent at any time.

These steps are essential in European countries to comply with GDPR regulations and meet the requirements of the data protection authorities. Nonetheless, the onus to obtain consent during the use of reCAPTCHA rests with the website owner.

Website owners who choose to use reCAPTCHA face a dilemma. As mentioned above, in order to use the CAPTCHA in compliance with privacy regulations, they must obtain consent in advance. Any user who is unwilling or unable to provide consent will therefore be excluded from performing any web interactions protected by reCAPTCHA, like creating an account, logging in or submitting a contact form.

In consequence, people with disabilities, as well as the elderly, or privacy-conscious individuals that choose not to share information with Google, are excluded from important website interactions.

These legitimate users may face repeated challenges or be blocked from accessing services, resulting in poor user experience. This will become even more important when the European Accessibility Reinforcement Act comes into force in June 2025.

Secured data protection

Ensuring GDPR Compliance with Google reCAPTCHA

As of May 2018, the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides the legal framework for data protection in the European Union. It ensures the fundamental right to informational self-determination through greater transparency and more user participation with regard to the data collected and how to process data.

Google reCAPTCHA’s extensive data collection practices may conflict with the GDPR’s proportionality principle, which mandates that personal data collection should be adequate, relevant, and limited to what is necessary. This conflict necessitates a thorough understanding and careful implementation of reCAPTCHA to ensure transparency and compliance with GDPR.

Websites utilizing reCAPTCHA are required to display a privacy policy that details information collection, usage, data sharing practices, and security measures. These disclosures align with transparency obligations under GDPR. Furthermore, website operators must be aware of the ePrivacy Directive’s stipulations on cookies, where most types of cookies require user consent.

Informing Users about Data Collection and Data Processing

It’s a fundamental GDPR requirement to keep users informed about data collection.

Website owners will need to be able to demonstrate the lawful use of reCAPTCHA as required by Article 5(1) and (2) of the GDPR. This includes providing information about how Google processes data subject, details about deployed cookies, the purposes of data collection, and any third-party data sharing guarantees in both their user agreement and privacy policies. The requirements for transfers to third countries like US must be met, otherwise the transfer will not be legally compliant with GDPR.

Website operators must ensure that their privacy policies are transparent, comprehensible, and in full compliance with GDPR requirements. These policies must clearly convey to users:

  • What data is being collected

  • How it is being used

  • Who has access to it

  • How it is protected

This ensures that data subject website users can make informed decisions about their user’s data, customer data, customers data, and user’s data. Overall, it is difficult for website operators to find out what data Google collects and how. Even Google’s own privacy policy does not contain any information about reCAPTCHA specifically, but only about all Google services as a whole.

The following personal user’s data seems to be collected during Google reCAPTCHA verification, in addition to other unknown data:

  • IP address of the website visitor

  • URL of the visited web page

  • Full screenshot of the browser window

  • Referer URL (the website the visitor came from)

  • Time spent on the website

  • Mouse movements and keyboard inputs

  • Operating system and browser

  • Device settings (such as time, language and location)

  • Installed browser plugins

  • Cookies, including Google cookies

However, Google does not disclose exactly what, why, or how end users’ personal information is collected by reCAPTCHA. It only states in its EU User Consent Policy and Agreement that data is being collected, and therefore the EU customer’s consent must be obtained.

The Bavarian State Office for Data Protection (BayLDA), a leading EU data protection authority, has addressed this issue in its FAQ. The data protection authority therefore strongly recommends that website owners consider a GDPR-compliant alternative to reCAPTCHA.

This lack of full transparency is a point of concern that website operators should consider when implementing Google reCAPTCHA. Today, there are alternatives to reCAPTCHA that are GDPR compliant and without data breaches. In this respect, the use of reCAPTCHA does not necessarily meet the legal base of data minimization and purpose limitation.

Integrating reCAPTCHA Cookies in Your Consent Management Tools

Managing the regulatory requirements related to reCAPTCHA’s use of cookies can be intricate. For instance, under the ePrivacy Directive and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), ensuring that privacy policies appropriately reflect consent mechanisms and data handling in line with GDPR can be a challenging task, thus, legal advice may be necessary.

Displaying a clear and comprehensive cookie policy is a crucial step. Moreover, website operators must be aware of the ePrivacy Directive’s stipulations on cookies, where most types of cookies require user consent. reCAPTCHA may use non-essential cookies, which require customer approval that must be freely given, specific, and informed.

A reCAPTCHA GDPR compliant policy must articulate the use of Google reCAPTCHA and the associated cookies on a website. User consent must be obtained before placing non-essential cookies in compliance with GDPR, ePrivacy Directive, and PECR guidelines.

In the next paragraph, we will find out what consequences website operators can expect if they do not comply with the basic principles of the GDPR.

The Consequences of a GDPR Non-Compliant CAPTCHA

What is the compliance risk for site owners to protect themselves from malicious bots with various CAPTCHA providers? First, violating the GDPR can result in fines. Data protection authorities may also prohibit the processing of data altogether, depending on the country and its privacy requirements.

In addition to data breaches, the damage to your company’s reputation should not be overlooked. Violations of the GDPR will generally become public. Fines and penalties will be reported.

According to Article 82 of the GDPR, data subjects are entitled to compensation for material or non-material damage caused by a data breach. If a lawsuit is filed, legal fees and any damages awarded will also be incurred. Any GDPR certification under Article 42 may also be withdrawn in the event of a conviction. The costs of repairing the damage to your reputation are additional.

Companies have been heavily fined for non-compliant use of reCAPTCHA, as in the cases of NS Cards France and Cityscoot from France. The responsible protection authority conducted an investigation to reCAPTCHA’s data usage and found that sending personal data to Google without prior consent is not compliant with GDPR. In consequence, both companies were fined more than €100,000 for non-compliance with obligations on the use of cookies and trackers (article 82 of the French data protection law).

Privacy-friendly captcha

GDPR-Compliant Alternatives to reCAPTCHA

Though Google reCAPTCHA is a frequently chosen tool for bot protection, it’s not the sole option available. If you’re concerned about GDPR compliance and being privacy compliant, there are alternatives to consider. These privacy-compliant reCAPTCHA alternatives, such as honeypots, text-based CAPTCHAs, and Friendly Captcha, prioritize privacy and GDPR compliance.

Nonetheless, it’s noteworthy that despite these alternatives to Google reCAPTCHA potentially offering bot protection and spam prevention, they also bring their own set of challenges. For instance, both honeypots and traditional CAPTCHAs may not provide a sufficient level of protection against advanced bots.

Friendly Captcha is a secure, GDPR-compliant bot protection software. It offers the following features:

  • Uses sophisticated invisible proof-of-work challenges to the end user’s device in the background.

  • Utilizes advanced risk signals to detect and prevent bot activity.

  • Does not rely on HTTP cookies and does not use any persistent browser storage.

  • Designed to be GDPR compliant and does not collect personal data unnecessarily.

Honeypot Technique

The honeypot technique presents a straightforward and privacy-aware method to capture malicious bots. A honeypot is a deception system that imitates a potential target for hackers. It is designed to appear vulnerable to security threats, thereby attracting simple bots and distracting them from the real target. It does this by using hidden form fields to trap bots, thereby not collecting personal data and maintaining GDPR compliance.

However, while the honeypot technique is a way to catch bots, it’s worth noting that it is not as robust as other methods like Friendly Captcha in terms of preventing spam and automated abuse. Sophisticated spammers and bots will easily find their way to their target despite the honeypot.

Despite its limitations, an anti-spam honeypot could be a good choice for smaller websites. It’s worth considering if you’re looking for a simple and free alternative to Google reCAPTCHA.

Text-based CAPTCHAs

Traditional text-based CAPTCHAs require manual interaction and aim to be hard to solve by bots. Such a puzzle could be repeating a set of distorted characters or selecting icons that match a description.

However, these tasks are usually easy to solve for bots. There are many services that offer automated solving for very little money. These services are usually powered by artificial intelligence or cheap labor. In addition, text, image or audio recognition tasks are not accessible to everyone and hurt the UX, which can cause increased abandonment.

Hence, although traditional CAPTCHAs might seem like a viable Google reCAPTCHA alternative, one must consider their limitations in accessibility and effectiveness against advanced bots. With reCAPTCHA, honeypots or text CAPTCHAs you may have too many data protection issues that you can easily avoid with alternative CAPTCHA services.

A leading European CAPTCHA service is Friendly Captcha. It is an alternative option for website operators to protect their websites without violating GDPR. It is a data protection-compliant alternative to reCAPTCHA that does not store personal data.

By using Friendly Captcha, you can ensure privacy and GDPR requirements while still protecting your forms like contact forms, login pages or checkout processes from spam and abuse. Let’s take a closer look at Friendly Captcha together.

Friendly Captcha

As data protectionists at heart, Friendly Captcha has developed a GDPR compliant alternative to reCAPTCHA. With Friendly Captcha, website owners have an efficient, privacy-friendly protection against bots and spambots, while the data of all users is protected according to the requirements of data protection authorities.

In a nutshell, Friendly Captcha offers the following advantages over Google reCAPTCHA:

  • No HTTP cookies

  • No data stored in persistent browser storage (like LocalStorage or IndexedDB)

  • Local data processing

  • No manual user tasks required

  • Fully accessible and user-friendly

As an EU CAPTCHA provider, Friendly Captcha fulfills the highest security standards and prioritizes data privacy laws. Friendly Captcha is designed to protect your website in a professional way. At the same time, it’s compliant with relevant data protection regulations.

Friendly Captcha ensures sophisticated bot protection for website owners and data protection for end users, aligning with GDPR’s emphasis on data minimization. Friendly Captcha is fully GDPR-compliant, taking a privacy-first approach that does not rely on tracking or exploiting personal user data.

It also provides full, WCAG-compliant accessibility and a smooth user experience. It works without requiring website visitors to perform any manual tasks. Instead, it uses cryptographic background puzzles combined with advanced risk signals to provide bot protection, spam protection, and spam prevention for web interactions such as logins, registrations, and contact forms.

Considering GDPR compliance and the need to protect user’s privacy, Friendly Captcha is a promising alternative to reCAPTCHA. It offers effective bot protection without compromising on user privacy.

Secure captcha

Implementing a GDPR-Compliant CAPTCHA Solution

When implementing a GDPR-compliant CAPTCHA solution, it’s important to consider both its bot protection capabilities, as well as its adherence to data privacy laws.

Google reCAPTCHA’s effectiveness in preventing spam and automated abuse needs to be assessed against the privacy implications of Google reCAPTCHA’s data collection practices and the risks associated with CAPTCHA implementation.

For European-based organizations and international organizations that target EU users, comprehensive security measures are essential to meet GDPR requirements.

Any company that cares about data privacy should implement a GDPR-compliant CAPTCHA to protect the personal data of those who visit their website.

From a legal compliance perspective, organizations must meet the requirements of EU data protection authorities. It’s not only website owners based in the European Economic Area that need to ensure GDPR compliance. Website operators outside the European Union are equally affected. As soon as the website targets customers in Europe, the requirements of the GDPR apply.

When implementing Google reCAPTCHA, it is important to be aware that reCAPTCHA uses cookies to track user behavior. Therefore, you need to integrate appropriate consent mechanisms. In contrast, Friendly Captcha is fully GDPR compliant and does not use HTTP cookies at all. Friendly Captcha does not store any data in persistent browser storage, so you do not need user consent.

There is another critical point to consider regarding user consent: Google reCAPTCHA sends users’ personal information to server locations across international borders for data processing. Friendly Captcha processes EU user’s data in a decentralized manner within the EU. For European customers, all data centers are located within the EU. This also applies to all sub-processors used by Friendly Captcha to process end-user data. Thus, it is ensured that no sensitive information of European users is transferred to high-risk countries such as the US.

Data processing is particularly problematic when users are not informed in advance about the purpose of the data processing and are not able to give or withhold their consent via a cookie banner.

In order for Google reCAPTCHA to protect your website interactions, such as logins or registrations, it performs risk assessments on website users. These assessments use cookies and collect personal information. However, Google may only set cookies and use personal information with users’ prior consent. This means that you have only two technical implementation options for users who do not accept reCAPTCHA cookies and data collection: Either you block them due to the lack of data to perform a risk assessment, or you disable reCAPTCHA altogether in such cases, rendering the protection useless.

In contrast, when you implement Friendly Captcha, you do not need to obtain prior user consent and you can protect your site from bots instantly. Plus, you can transparently find all the information it collects, how data is processed, and which sub-processors are involved. Friendly Captcha ensures that only the data necessary to prevent fraud is collected and processed. Friendly Captcha is designed in such a way that it can be implemented directly out of the box in compliance with the GDPR.

Want to integrate Friendly Captcha into your website? Simply add information about Friendly Captcha to your privacy policy to comply with GDPR.

European data protection

Summary: Is reCAPTCHA GDPR Compliant?

In this article, we looked at relevant issues surrounding Google reCAPTCHA’s GDPR compliance and discussed the benefits of a privacy-friendly alternative such as Friendly Captcha. Finally, we will summarize all of this information. Is Google reCAPTCHA GDPR compliant?

Data protection authorities around the world are criticizing Google and its reCAPTCHA solution. And they are right. There are many issues to discuss when using reCAPTCHA. Here are the main points of criticism regarding reCAPTCHA and GDPR compliance:

  • The legal basis for using Google reCAPTCHA is unclear. Even if some companies claim to have a legitimate interest in using reCAPTCHA, there are now court rulings to the contrary with high fines.

  • Without a legitimate interest, the use of a cookie opt-in tool is mandatory. As a website operator, you must obtain the user’s consent to the use of reCAPTCHA cookies in advance. Those who are unable or unwilling to provide consent will be excluded from many important web interactions.

  • Google is not transparent about what data is collected by reCAPTCHA, where it is stored, or how it is processed. Even when the cookie banner asks for consent, the user can never make an informed decision about cookies. This information is missing in Google’s EU User Consent Directive and Agreement.

  • If a website targets EU users, the European GDPR applies. The personal user data collected by Google reCAPTCHA is transferred to Google servers in the United States. Cross-border transfers of European user data to non-EU countries without complying with the GDPR’s strict requirements are illegal.

On the other hand, Friendly Captcha is a GDPR compliant CAPTCHA out of the box. As an EU CAPTCHA service, Friendly Captcha protects important web interactions such as logins, registrations and online forms from bot attacks and spam. Unlike Google reCAPTCHA, Friendly Captcha does not rely on the extensive collection and evaluation of user data, but on the evaluation of risk signals and advanced cryptographic puzzles. These puzzles run completely in the background; no user interaction with the CAPTCHA is required. Data from EU users remains within the EU. Information about data collection and use is transparent. The cookie banner request is no longer necessary. In a nutshell: The requirements of GDPR and international privacy laws such as CCPA and PIPL are met from the ground up.

Want to switch to a GDPR compliant CAPTCHA solution? Try Friendly Captcha 30 days for free. Our sales team will be happy to answer any questions you may have.



Due to a lack of transparency, no specific privacy policy, intensive data collection, cookie use and data transfer to non-EU countries. Google reCAPTCHA is considered to be critical from a GDPR compliance perspective and a privacy perspective. In legal cases, European data protection authorities such as the CNIL have imposed fines for the improper use of reCAPTCHA by website operators.

Yes, Friendly Captcha is fully GDPR-compliant as it minimizes personal data collection, does not set any HTTP cookies, does not store personal data in the browser’s persistent storage, and supports EU-only data processing.

Google reCAPTCHA is a tool intended to identify human users and prevent automated bot interactions, thereby helping to prevent unwanted access by automated programs. It protects websites with manual user challenges, such as clicking on cars or bikes, and by analyzing user behavior, such as mouse navigation and click patterns.

European data protection authorities are looking critically at the use of reCAPTCHA by website operators. There have been legal decisions regarding Google reCAPTCHA from authorities such as the French CNIL.

The use of reCAPTCHA can be illegal under EU law and several website owners have been found to have done so. If you want to use reCAPTCHA without breaking the law, you may want to seek professional legal assistance.

As it is difficult to use reCAPTCHA legally under EU law, it is worth looking for a GDPR-compliant reCAPTCHA alternative like Friendly Captcha.

Google reCAPTCHA requires consent, according to EU data protection authorities, including France’s CNIL. This is because Google’s reCAPTCHA cookies collect information about a user’s device and browser and transmit this information to Google’s servers.

This data processing is not “strictly necessary” for login authentication. Therefore, Google reCAPTCHA cookies require prior opt-in consent.

To comply with GDPR when using reCAPTCHA, it’s essential to obtain explicit user consent and limit data collection to what is strictly necessary for the service. The transfer of personal data to countries outside the European Economic Area requires additional safeguards for website operators. A much simpler solution to protect your own website from spam and bots without the need for additional security measures is Friendly Captcha.