How Far Should Your Users Have to Go to Prove Who They Are?

Balancing UX and security involves a personalized approach based on your unique needs.

Holiday shopping using laptop
Mariusz Blach/stock.adobe.com

Imagine this.

It's a busy Monday morning for your average internet user as they click on your website to make a quick transaction. They're excited to use your platform because you offer a product they're interested in, and the website layout is easy to navigate. Gratefully, the user clicks on your website's login page, only to be confronted with not one but two separate CAPTCHA queries. It's like being hit with a long line while waiting to get your coffee, but you're already running late to work.

Traditional CAPTCHAs aren't just irritating, they're proven to cause friction, which could lead to a reduction in conversion rates. Users in a rush might just go back and look at a different search result. But many companies continue to use CAPTCHA solutions because inconveniencing users seems to be a small price to pay compared to shielding their website and business from the regular army of bots and malicious attackers out there. In reality, traditional CAPTCHA solutions are nothing more than a minor inconvenience for bots. With one estimate showing half of web traffic is automated, it's not difficult to see that many bots end up safely passing through the gates of reCAPTCHAs. So, the question is, do you need to use CAPTCHAs anymore? And if so, what should you look for in an ideal solution?

Limitations of Traditional CAPTCHA Solutions

At its core, traditional CAPTCHA services, like Google's reCAPTCHA, are supposed to help companies sort out real users from machine-generated traffic (such as bots) and protect their business and revenues. The idea is that if you can keep machine traffic from reaching your websites, it could protect your business from viruses, spam and malicious files.

The trouble is that traditional solutions are often ineffective, and overtly free solutions could also exploit your customers. Users might contribute their data to unwittingly train Google's AI models or digitize the entire Google Books archive. The company has also landed in hot water recently as France has joined Austria in declaring that European data collected through Google Analytics is not adequately protected in terms of privacy.

CAPTCHA was never meant to be a standalone solution to the problem of bots or spam. It was simply intended as a differentiating mechanism between human and bot traffic. But such a simple solution could not survive for long, and CAPTCHAs have long been outdated, outsmarted and insecure. The existence of automated CAPTCHA farms that leverage human worker pools to solve CAPTCHAs for bots is well-known. Lacking the addition of sophisticated security logic to counter advanced and evolving threats, CAPTCHAs can now easily be surpassed by malicious actors.

So now we have a security solution widely used by businesses that bots can easily complete. Its design fails to provide a feedback loop beyond a pass/fail signal and cannot even flag failed "users" so those requests can be monitored more closely in the future. Also, in the current atmosphere where user privacy is at the forefront and many geographical regions are implementing their own version of user privacy laws, traditional CAPTCHAs fail to provide adequate transparency around end-user data. This can lead your company to run into serious compliance issues. All this while still making for a frustrating user experience and often simply inaccessible to users with disabilities.

Does Your Business Need CAPTCHA?

With the massive upsurge in digital footprints post-COVID, user experience can no longer be sidelined. But the pandemic was also accompanied by a tremendous increase in the amount and impact of security incidents. For example, at the beginning of 2022, Crypto.com was hacked, resulting in almost 500 users being targeted and $35 million worth of cryptocurrency illegally withdrawn. This incident was a wake-up call for large and small businesses alike.

Companies need to focus on security without compromising user experience or privacy. Traditional CAPTCHA solutions no longer fit the bill. Companies must evaluate whether they need CAPTCHA and then focus on finding a next-generation solution relevant to their needs. This could involve answering questions such as:

  • Do you get a substantial amount of traffic on a day-to-day basis?
  • Do you allow form submissions on your site?
  • Do you permit comment submissions on your blog posts?
  • Are you processing payments and transactions on your website?

It's also important to understand that traditional CAPTCHAs aren't a one-size-fits-all solution; each business has unique customer needs and demographics, meaning you'll want to consider accessibility and convenience factors when researching your options.

Focus On Balancing UX With Security

For any e-commerce business, fluidity in user experience is paramount. Customers are initially attracted to an online platform because of its convenient layout and accessibility. Those same customers also trust that their personal information and data are not being used or sold for marketing purposes.

When you're looking for a way to secure your business, research solutions that respect your and your user's privacy. This means weeding out all solutions that collect personally identifiable information (PII) or involve third parties. If you are concerned about compliance, you should look for a solution that explicitly states that it processes data locally. Try to choose a solution that offers flexible, adaptable data retention options to help you to fit in with local legal requirements.

As organizations face increasingly scrupulous legal requirements for processing users' data, adding a layer of security no longer grants security specialists the ability to handle user data as they see fit. The reality is that your business needs its customers, but it also requires a secure platform. Security and user privacy aren't mutually exclusive, and neither should come at the cost of a poor customer experience.

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