Google is closing a loophole publishers use to enforce paywalls

By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 22 July 2019

Google is closing a loophole that alerts publishers when people are browsing in Incognito Mode, preventing them from enforcing their paywalls.

The change comes into effect at the end of the month and will apply to publishers which have used the loophole to deter metered paywall circumvention. Meters offer readers limited free articles before they hit a paywall or registration wall to continue accessing the publisher’s content.

“This model is inherently porous, as it relies on a site’s ability to track the number of free articles someone has viewed, typically using cookies,” Google said in a blog post.

“Private browsing modes are one of several tactics people use to manage their cookies and thereby ‘reset’ the meter count.”

The search engine giant recommends publishers wishing to deter those circumventing meters use other options, such as reducing the number of free articles they offer people or “hardening” their paywalls.

Publishers have largely turned to a subscription model in the face of declining advertising revenue, swallowed mostly by tech giants such as Google.

Google says that despite recognising the impact it has on some publishers, it remains committed to the principles of private browsing.

“People choose to browse the web privately for many reasons. Some wish to protect their privacy on shared or borrowed devices, or to exclude certain activities from their browsing histories,” it said.

“In situations such as political oppression or domestic abuse, people may have important safety reasons for concealing their web activity and their use of private browsing features.” 

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