Google buys ReCAPTCHA to aid book scanning

Acquisition will also help improve security
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Google has acquired ReCAPTCHA, a company that provides security puzzles to prevent online fraud and digitise texts, to help digitise printed materials for its online library.

Pittsburgh-based ReCAPTCHA, a spin-off of Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science, developed puzzles consisting of words with distorted letters that users must decipher to register for online services or gain access to certain websites. The aim is to tell human users apart from automated systems.

ReCAPTCHA puzzles are created using words from printed materials that current optical character recognition programs cannot read, so solving them also helps digitise pre-computer-age texts for projects such as Google Books.

“We'll be applying the technology within Google not only to increase fraud and spam protection for Google products but also to improve our books and newspaper scanning process,” Google product manager Will Cathcart and ReCAPTCHA co-founder Luis von Ahn said in a blog post.

Google's Pittsburgh engineering office is situated on Carnegie Mellon's campus and researchers from the two organisations have collaborated with each other in the past. In 2006, Google licensed the ESP Game, an online game devised by von Ahn, for use as the Google Image Labeler.

"Google is the best fit for reCAPTCHA," von Ahn said. "From the very start, people often assumed the project was connected to Google, so it only makes sense that reCAPTCHA Inc ultimately would find a home within Google."

The terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

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