Boston Globe Blocks Readers Using Privacy Modes In Browsers

from the noncognito dept

While the Boston Globe has had a paywall on its site for some time -- the metered sort that lets you read a certain number of articles for free before insisting you sign up for an account with a subcription -- that paywall also featured an open tunnel allowing anyone running their browsers in private or incognito mode to drive right through it. This workaround was well known and used since at least 2014, although hunting around on google search results seems to make it clear that this was all found out because people generally like to use privacy and incognito modes in their browsers for the very reasons the browsers developed them: security and privacy.

Two things that perhaps the folks at the Boston Globe don't consider terribly important as they have elected to simply block all readership from browsers running in privacy modes unless the reader signs up for a subscription.

The Boston Globe website is closing off a hole in its paywall by preventing visitors who aren't logged in from reading articles in a browser's private mode.

"You're using a browser set to private or incognito mode" is the message given to BostonGlobe.com visitors who click on articles in private mode. "To continue reading articles in this mode, please log in to your Globe account." People who aren't already Globe subscribers are urged to subscribe.

It's a strange request for a couple of reasons. First, many privacy modes don't even keep sites from tracking what you're doing. They do, however, tend to limit the ability to track you across multiple different sites as you browse. Second, there is still a laughably easy workaround for anyone that wants to keep seeing free articles from the Boston Globe without a subscription: simply delete all cookies from the Boston Globe off of your computer and, voila, you get more free articles. Regardless of both, punishing readers for their privacy concerns probably isn't the best way to build subscription bases.

The Globe policy is a case of "disrespecting user preferences," Electronic Frontier Foundation Senior Staff Technologist Alexei Miagkov told Ars. Miagkov was not aware of any other sites blocking users in private browsing mode.

Logging into the website in private mode puts your privacy at risk, he said. "By logging in you make it easy for them to keep tracking you, to keep building their (advertising) user profiles," he said. "They may also sync their tracking data with their advertising partners whereas if you hadn't logged in, those advertising partners might see a new visitor for every new incognito session."

It's worth noting that this isn't a technical limitation, but a choice that the Globe is making almost certainly for those advertising reasons. There are many newspaper sites that have managed to allow for free articles in privacy modes, such as The Chicago Tribune and USA Today. Whatever you think of paywalls generally, I can't imagine how this disregard for readers' privacy choices builds a path to long term paywall success.

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Filed Under: browsers, incongnito, news, newspapers, paywalls, private mode
Companies: boston globe


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2017 @ 7:28pm

    Re: Re: Re: An issue that will probably be fixed

    It would have to allow a cookie to be placed in temporary memory, to be overwritten once the session has ended.

    Firefox already has it: Preferences / Privacy / Always use private browsing mode / Accept cookies from sites... keep until (I close Firefox)

    Sites will be able to track you while the browser is open. Adding an "until I close the tab" option would be good, but even then, the site and ad network will be able to collude if it's permissive enough to be undetectable.


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