China Railways’s Bewitched CAPTCHA

CRC captcha
Here, the CAPTCHA appears still, but as of when this post was first published, moving CAPTCHAs could still be found.

Whilst you may not need a PhD to buy a train ticket (even for Second Class) in China, as of late, you do need — sharper eyes and faster reflexes.

The CAPTCHA from hell it is — to completely thwart hackers (who mainly serve a population of a billion and counting who are sick to death of finding their favourite train tickets gone), the Chinese Rail Academy (who actually design and operate the site) went into overdrive. If there was any kind of imaginative debate amongst the programmers, it probably went like this:

A: These hackers are so annoying. We need to foil them.
B: Mess with the CAPTCHA. Change it so often they give up.
A: That’s it!

End result: most likely, the world’s first moving CAPTCHA that also changes colours. Too bad if you’re colour-blind: your impairment, it seemed, was of less importance than the guy in front of you who wanted a train ticket back home.

Not only did these people shriek out in protest — this change of CAPTCHA was such news that it made it to the national news sites. Rhetoric in this sense was sharply anti-railways, who were blasted with making a mere ticket purchase online harder than — right, using your eyes.

To be a (fair) rail enthusiast myself, I have to say that the years of Chinese railways under the current rail boss, Sheng Guangzu, were less than spectacular. Top speeds and new lines have been downgraded, the e-booking website frequent begets itself a torrent of controversy, Chinglish has been “standardised” under new station naming rules, and there’s been a rolling stock shortage as of late. In the face of a mushrooming ridership, the railways need to get their houses in order.

Probably the best way to start: rid ourselves of that super-annoying always-on-the-move CAPTCHA.

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