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Georgia officials investigate CAPTCHA code that featured racial slur on DPH website

Credit: AJC

People 2 People April 11, 2020

Credit: AJC

The Department of Public Health and Microsoft are looking into what caused the error

Officials with the Georgia Department of Public Health and Microsoft are investigating why a security code that generated on the state website revealed a racial slur for a user.

Georgia DPH officials say the issue arose on their website used for scheduling COVID-19 tests Wednesday. The CAPTCHA code, which is a Microsoft code created to determine whether a user is real or a spam robot, populated an “offensive computer-generated” code, DPH spokeswoman Nancy Nydam told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. According to a screen grab from the site, the word that generated was the N-word.

“DPH joins all those who were offended by this randomly generated display and is pressing Microsoft to explain why safeguards were not in place to have prevented this from happening in the first place,” she said in an email.

The code, which DPH has no role in creating, is used by Microsoft, so the state department has sought the software company’s assistance in investigating and rectifying the issue. According to Nydam, Microsoft uses a third-party vendor service for the CAPTCHA codes. The codes are randomly generated values, so it’s still unclear how the letters appeared to spell out the racial slur.

“The Microsoft team has raised it as a high priority incident and will be working with the third party to exclude offensive text to prevent this from happening in the future,” Nydam said.

DPH was made aware of the offensive code when an Atlanta-area woman shared screen grabs of the code on her Twitter page, according to The News & Observer. The woman, whose Twitter handle is @DanieEve, was reportedly registering for a COVID-19 test on the site when she noticed the code Wednesday.

“How does this even happen??? As a confirmation cache?!,” the Twitter user wrote in a tweet, which is now deleted, and tagged the Georgia DPH directly.