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Google suspects users are not human

Prove you're not a virus, or be terminated!
Sun Jun 10 2007, 16:59
IN A FINE TWIST of irony, the software algorithms at Google's planet-wide cluster interrupted my peaceful web searching experience to tell me I looked more like a virus rather than a human being.

In Philip K Dick's famous novel 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' 'bounty' hunters track down, identify and kill human-like androids which are made of organic components and thus virtually indistinguishable from humans. They subject suspect androids to an "empathy test" interrogation designed to trigger an emotional response on the suspects. Since those androids can't feel empathy, their responses are either bad or too slow as the programmed brain on them struggles to come up with the logical correct answer, instead of the emotional one that the interviewer expects.

alt='google-suspect-search-query--are-you-a-virus-or-spyware-aplication-1'
Oh-oh... "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore"

This time, the situation was reversed... it wasn't a human looking for rogue machines, but a machine (the GoogleMind) testing me, to see if I was human. For a moment, I felt inside Philip K Dick's world -which plenty of you would surely remember more because of the 'Blade Runner' movie. I swear I wasn't doing anything "suspicious". I just typed www.google.com, then clicked on Google Groups, and then started a search with the string "cyberguard password" -as I was trying to find the default password for one firewall appliance-. The first results page was promptly displayed, but when I clicked on "Next" to see the second results page, the GoogleMind awakened and virtual alarms were triggered.

alt='google-suspect-search-query--are-you-a-virus-or-spyware-aplication-2'
What was my sin? Searching for "Cyberguard password"

Before I realized what happened, a the web browser read in unusually large typeface "We're sorry...", followed by an explanation of sorts... "your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application". Yes, Google was telling me that apparently computer virus log/in to GMail with a valid account -like I did minutes before- that viruses and spyware type assorted legit search strings, to end with a search for "cyberguard password". Huh?. Did I miss something?. I was probably authenticated with a cookie on my browser by then, was I a total stranger to the GoogleMind? Apparently so.

alt='google-suspect-search-query--are-you-a-virus-or-spyware-aplication-3'
OK, I go back, hit "Next Results" and I'm stopped again

The message continued "To protect our users" [pardon me? since when does a web search hurt other search engine users?] "we can't process your request right now". The company apparently informed me then that "my access" [to the search engine I suspect] was suspended: "We'll restore your access as quickly as possible, so try again soon". [soon?].

"In the meantime, if you suspect that your computer or network has been infected, you might want to run a virus checker, or spyware removed, to make sure that your systems are free of viruses and other spurious software". [Gee, I run Linux, and at the time of that incident my notebook was the only active system on my IP address, I wonder if they mean "Picasa for Wine" when they say "spurious software"? -sorry, I couldn't resist the punch].

alt='google-suspect-search-query--are-you-a-virus-or-spyware-aplication-4'
Finally, I prove I'm Human and I'm allowed to continue...

The ending line of the message was even more frightening: "We apologize for the inconvenience, and hope we'll see you again on Google" [So, is the firm escorting me out the door?]. Fortunately, at the end of that page of nonsense, was something that made a bit of sense "To continue searching, type the characters you see below" followed by a familiar captcha box, the Turing test to tell humans apart from computers, more frequently seen in web forums and guestbooks to fend off spammers.

Just to make sure I understood what happened, I hit my browser's -SeaMonkey 1.11- "Back" button, and yes, I was indeed logged in at Google, and my search was "Cyberguard password", pretty harmless it seemed to me. So I hit the "next" link, once again, at the bottom of Google's first page of results to my search query. Once again, I was interrupted by the dreaded Google Police. Fortunately, once I entered the Captcha message, the GoogleMind identified me as a "surely an human being, sometimes", and let me carry on with my search for the default manufacturer password for an internet appliance.

Shirley! Shome mistake. µ

See Also
Google locked me out of GMail
Why you can be locked out of GMail
Google and Amazon, the next Media Empire?

Related L'INQs
"Google is Turing's cathedral, awaiting its soul"
Web Search for a Planet-The Google Cluster Architecture

 

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