iOS 16, Apple’s upcoming software update for the iPhone, includes plenty of high-profile new features. But there are also some more obscure upgrades.
Like an intriguing new feature spotted by MacRumors that allows iPhone users to bypass CAPTCHAs by authenticating the device in the background.
CAPTCHAs, if you’re not familiar with the term, are those very annoying verification puzzles where you have to prove you’re not a bot. Sometimes you have to read and type a scrambled bit of text; sometimes you’ll be told to click on ‘any photo with a boat’ or ‘any photo with traffic lights’. The idea is that only humans have the pattern-recognition skills necessary to pass the test, so websites and apps can use this method to prevent botnets from automatically generating thousands of fake accounts or making fraudulent purchases.
As Apple explains in a video about the new feature, CAPTCHAs present a number of issues. They create potential privacy issues as they relate to IP tracking; they degrade the user experience; and they can completely exclude some human users, especially if they have a disability or language barrier. It’s very difficult to set the bar so high that all bots and all humans are excluded, given the range of accessibility issues in humans and the constantly evolving capabilities of AI.
iOS 16 removes the need for CAPTCHAs by doing the verification work itself in the background — based on the user’s Apple ID account activity, passwords entered, biometric login activity, and so on — then sharing a Private Access Token with the app or website to prove that everything is legit. This should make the process much less burdensome for the user and help the site or app avoid driving potential users and customers away.
All of this, of course, remains unproven at this point. We’ll have to see how much site owners and app developers adopt Apple’s system and how fraudulent parties take up the challenge of cracking that same system. But this is at least an appealing idea that could make the internet measurably less tedious to use.
iOS 16 is now available as a developer beta. It is expected to be launched to the general public in September.