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Twitter Quietly Fixes Broken Audio CAPTCHA

June 6, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

A blind Internet user has reported that Twitter has corrected issues with its audio CAPTCHA during a one-hour Friday evening maintenance window. Blind Access Journal has confirmed the fix.

On August 22, 2007, Twitter implemented the ReCAPTCHA service to protect the site from abuse while granting a level of accessibility to blind and visually impaired people wishing to sign up for the new social networking service. The enhancement was implemented by Twitter in cooperation with members of the connected online blind community. Twitter received praise for this move.

On December 7, 2008, reCAPTCHA began deploying a new audio playback scheme. “Instead of using spoken digits or letters, our new audio CAPTCHA presents entire spoken sentences or phrases that the best speech recognition algorithms failed to recognize,” Luis von Ahn, the project’s executive producer, said on the reCAPTCHA Blog.

“For now, if you are using our custom theme option, we ask that you update the instructions for the audio CAPTCHA to say something along the lines of ‘type what you hear'”, von Ahn told web site developers who implemented reCAPTCHA, signifying the possible need to modify their sites in response to this change.

Reports began to surface of blind people locked out of Twitter’s account creation process. Investigating, Blind Access Journal opened the urgent support ticket 329388 with Twitter’s technical support team on May 28.

“Please resolve this because, as it stands right now, some people are being locked out solely because they’re blind / visually impaired,” Darrell Shandrow stated as part of the request for assistance.

On June 3, the support ticket was closed and removed with the statement “Twitter is a free service, and while we try to provide as much help as we can, we can’t get to every email”. A subsequent request for follow up went unanswered.

On Friday, Twitter underwent an evening maintenance window lasting approximately one hour. Shortly after, an update appeared on the Twitter Status site “The maintenance was successful and we are back up!”

Early Saturday morning, Mika Pyyhkala (pyyhkala) reported “the audio captcha for the Twitter sign up process has been fixed and works now!”

Twitter has made no statement regarding the audio CAPTCHA or any other issues that may have been resolved in Friday’s maintenance downtime.

“Unfortunately it was a very frustrating issue for a lot of people who couldn’t get beyond it,” said Larry Gassman (Lgsinger).

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