If time is ticking and you were tasked with choosing the biggest cat from a series of miniature feline photos, could you do it?
What if there was a Telfar bag at stake?
Last week, the fashion brand, led by designer Telfar Clemens, launched a limited number of new bags in what is known as a “drop.” When this happens, chaos often ensues and bags sell out in a matter of minutes. This time was no exception.
Usually other Telfar fans and finger dexterity are the biggest obstacles standing in the way of securing one of these coveted bags. Consumers must be quick to buy them online.
This time, however, would-be Telfar were baffled and trapped by Captcha tests, which are used on websites to determine whether or not a visitor (often a consumer) is human. They are intended to deter hackers and software programs that run automated tasks (better known as retail bots).
The captchas seemed very specific, and perhaps even more difficult than usual. One was to fill in the blank: it asked users to complete the sentence “Not for you, for ___”. (The answer was Telfar’s motto: “Not for you, for everyone”). Another had the buyer evaluate several photos of different cats and draw a picture around the largest one.
Frustrated consumers flooded Twitter with jokes and pleas to help solve the puzzles.
“While the humans were answering captcha questions, the bots were getting the bags! They are really annoying !!! “wrote Rae Foston, 19, who had tried to buy a small red Telfar shopping bag, in a direct message.” Not that they are difficult, and I get the point of having them, but do they really serve their purpose? “
Jayshawn Williams, 33, also had trouble cracking the code. Mr. Williams, who was trying to buy a medium shopping bag, said it took him about five minutes to answer his Captcha question.
“Once I figured out the answer, I laughed to myself and had a ‘duh’ moment,” he wrote. (Mr. Williams was also unable to secure a bag).
But there was a method to this madness. Telfar, like many coveted brands that release inventory in this way, has dealt with automated bots. buying shares in the past. The original Captcha puzzles were an attempt to fool them, not humans.
“The truth is that the reason people don’t get the bag is not because they have to draw a box around the cat,” Clemens’ business partner Babak Radboy wrote in a statement to The New York Times. “That is actually causing more people and fewer bots to get bags. The reason people can’t get the bag is because in any given minute there are tens of thousands more people who want bags than there are to get. “
He defended the new security measures: “It takes time to do things right. Our thinking is long term. “
In recent years, bots have become increasingly good at cracking the codes traditionally used in these security systems. According to Jason Polakis, a researcher and faculty member at the University of Illinois at Chicago, simple Captchas, especially text-based ones, have become trivial to avoid.
“As machine learning continues to advance at a rapid pace, certain tasks that used to be very difficult for machines (for example, identifying which images show a glass of wine) are now well within their capabilities. In fact, for certain tasks, machines are probably better than average users, ”Polakis wrote in an email. “As a result, captcha services have made their challenges increasingly difficult in an attempt to mitigate the effectiveness of automated solvers.”
These automatic solvers, or bots, increase the value of items. Telfar’s shopping bags often end up on reseller sites like StockX, Poshmark, and Grailed, sometimes at the hands of collectives like Hypernova Group, which claimed to have bought more than 60 percent of Telfar’s shares on a stock exchange last summer. The sweep prompted a response from the brand on Instagram: “Telfar is for the people. Not the bots. “
Although many buyers yearn for easier captchas, some were still able to find the humor in everything despite coming out of this fall empty-handed.
“I will say that I had never encountered that cat captcha before and was taken aback. It was a bit of fun, ”Ms. Foston wrote. Although the humor came later, “not at that time because it is an intense 2 minutes trying to buy a phone,” he wrote.