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Can OpenTable's Captcha Foil State Bird's Bots?

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Much-lauded local spot State Bird Provisions has become notorious not just for their food, but for the difficulty of snagging a reservation at the restaurant, a phenomenon that has lines stretching up Fillmore Street every evening. Outrage followed last year's news that local tech types have deployed bots to make reservations at the restaurant, and now comes word that SBP has quietly shifted reservation platforms from Urbanspoon to OpenTable.

The switch might have something to do with OpenTable's captcha (that's the "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart"), which purports to foil bots from stealing available reservations. We checked back in with engineer Diogo Mónica, who initially noticed the phenomenon after his reservation code was out-hacked by automated restaurant bots.

"It is commendable that they are doing efforts to mitigate this problem," Mónica told us, saying "I'm glad they take it seriously." But it won't be that simple to defeat the bots. "I know for a fact that this measure won't change anything. There are several ways of bypassing the captchas. What will probably happen is that people that find these tricks will keep them for themselves."

To confirm, we checked in with Rezhound, a real-time reservation availability service that notifies you when a booked-up restaurant has tables. Founder Reed Kavner told us that "the captcha does not prevent Rezhound from accurately monitoring availability at State Bird," further proof that the stopgap measure is no match for the hungry bots.

Kavner specified that if more than one diner has requested a Rezhound alert for the same table (by date, time and party size), they'll all get the alert at the same time (a likely scenario in the case of SBP) and it all comes down to who has the fastest click. But for Mónica, the solution might just be to go it the old-fashioned way: "Waking up at 4am while everyone updates their bots."

Additional reporting by Allie Pape.

· State Bird Provisions reservation system tweaked to combat bots [Inside Scoop]
· Techies Are Hacking State Bird Reservations [~ ESF ~]
· State Bird Provisions, Newly Revamped and Expanded [~ ESF ~]

State Bird Provisions

1529 Fillmore Street, , CA 94115 (415) 795-1272 Visit Website