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Google Close Incognito Paywall Loophole

Google is closing a loophole in its Chrome browser’s Incognito mode it says will improve user privacy, but it may impact on publishers by once again enabling browsers to bypass paywalls.

Sites have been able to detect when a user is browsing in Incognito mode as the browser’s FileSystem API is disabled in the anonymous browsing mode.

Detecting an absence of the FileSystem API has allowed publishers to find users browsing in Incognito to circumvent metered paywalls and direct them to sign in.

But at the end of this month Google will prevent sites from doing so.

Google’s partner development manager of news and web partnerships Barb Palser said the websites were using “an unintended loophole” in a blog post announcing the change.

“Unlike hard paywalls or registration walls, which require people to log in to view any content, meters offer a number of free articles before you must log in.

“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 recommends publishers reduce the number of free articles, require registration to view content, or harden their paywalls.

The new changes will be included in Chrome 76, scheduled for release July 30.

The change is unlikely to gain Google any new friends in the media, who have already complained long and hard about the amount of advertising dollars Google and rival tech giant Facebook suck away in advertising dollars.

Publishers have also griped about the impact algorithm changes have had on their ability to get content seen on the digital platforms, and this could be seen as another example of media being placed at the mercy of powerful tech companies.

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