If the clock was ticking and you were tasked with choosing the biggest cat from a series of cat thumbnails, would you do it?
What if a Telfar bag is sold online?
Last week, the fashion brand, led by groundbreaking designer Telfar Clemens, released a limited number of new so-called “discount” bags. When this happens, chaos often ensues and bags sell out within minutes. This time is no exception.
Usually, other Telfar fans and finger dexterity are the biggest obstacles on the way to securing one of these sought-after bags. Consumers must be quick to buy them online.
This time, however, Telfar hopefuls find themselves bewildered by – and stuck in – Captcha tests, which are used on websites to determine if visitors (usually consumers) are human or not. They are intended to prevent hackers and software programs from running automated tasks (aka retail bots).
Captchas seem very specific – and perhaps even harder than usual. One is fill-in-the-blank: It asks the user to complete the phrase “Not for you – for ___.” (The answer is Telfar’s tagline: “Not for you – for everyone.”). Another asked buyers to rate multiple photos of different cats and draw a box around the largest photo.
Frustrated consumers flood Twitter with jokes and pleas for help solving puzzles.
“While humans answered the questions with captcha, the bots got the bag! They are really annoying!!! ‘ Rae Foston, 19, who tried to buy a small red Telfar bag, wrote in a direct message. “It’s not that they’re hard, and I understand having them, but do they really serve my purpose?”
Jayshawn Williams, 33, also had trouble trying to crack the code. Mr Williams, who was trying to buy a midsize shopping bag, said it took him about five minutes to answer his Captcha question.
“When I found the answer, I laughed to myself and had a bit of a ‘duh’ moment,” he wrote. (Mr Williams couldn’t even hold onto a bag.)
But there is a method to this madness. Telfar, like many brands coveted to free up inventory in this way, has handled automated out-of-stock programs in the past. The original Captcha puzzles were an attempt to fool them – not humans.
Clemens’ business partner Babak Radboy wrote in a statement to The New York Times: “The truth is that the reason people didn’t receive the bag was not because they had to draw a box around the cat. “That actually causes more people and fewer bots to get bags. The reason people can’t get a bag is because any minute there are tens of thousands of people who would rather have a bag than have a bag to get.”
He defended the new security measures: “It takes time to get things right. Our thinking is long-term.”
In recent years, bots have become increasingly adept at cracking codes traditionally used in these secure systems. According to Jason Polakis, a researcher and lecturer at the University of Illinois at Chicago, simple Captchas, especially text-based ones, have become trivial to ignore.
“As machine learning continues to advance at a rapid pace, some tasks that were previously difficult for machines (e.g. determining which image is showing a glass of wine) are now within reach. of them. In fact, for some tasks, machines are probably better than the average user,” Mr. Polakis wrote in an email. “As a result, captcha services have made their challenges increasingly difficult in an attempt to reduce the efficiency of automated solvers.”
These automated settlement bots or bots increase the value of items. Telfar shopping bags often appear on resale sites like StockX, Poshmark and Grailed, sometimes in the hands of collectives like Hypernova Group, which claim to have bought more than 60 percent of Telfar’s stock in a bag dropped last summer. The scan prompted a response from the brand on Instagram: “Telfar is for everyone. Not bots. “
While many shoppers worry about easier Captchas, some can still find humor in them despite leaving empty-handed.
“I will say that I have never encountered that cat captivity before and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s funny,” wrote Miss Foston. Though the humor came later – “not at that moment because it took 2 nerve-wracking minutes trying to buy a telfar,” she wrote.