Paywall unlocked by Chrome update? How to lock it back up.

31 Jul 2019 | By Tobias Arns

Earlier this week, Google launched a new Chrome version and fixed a loophole that previously allowed site owners to detect users in incognito mode. An unintended consequence of closing this loophole is that many publishers suddenly found their paywalls unlocked. In effect, Chrome, which has a market share of 64%, now makes it easier to bypass paywalls, especially metered ones of the type “read x articles for free each month”, simply by opening a page in incognito mode. WNIP estimates that 33% of paywalls have become unlocked after to the update. 

Cxense customers not affected by Chrome update

The good news for Cxense customers is that they are not affected because the way Conversion Engine-powered paywalls open and close access to content can’t be circumvented with incognito browsing. We'll explain more below.

Incognito browsing a popular trick to game paywalls

Some readers have long been using incognito mode to dodge metered paywalls. As the publisher can’t track incognito users, the site assumes that the reader is a new visitor and resets the meter to zero. In previous Chrome versions, publishers could detect readers using incognito mode by detecting that a private session was underway. They could then redirect that reader or simply make all content unavailable. Now, incognito detection no longer works.

Publishers relying on metered paywalls are understandably concerned because they have to contain the damage, but for affected publishers the change also provides an opportunity to look beyond simple metered paywall solutions and to build their paywall strategy on personalization and readers’ interaction with their sites instead.

Close leaks by taking control over your content

If a reader tries to circumvent a Cxense-powered paywall by going incognito they will simply be treated the same way as a “generic user” which means they receive the default experience the publisher has defined for that group. This is because the content is locked and unlocked server-side and not on the readers device. In other words, incognito mode will nullify the positive effects of personalization but not allow the reader to bypass the paywall. If anything, readers who frequent Cxense-powered sites normally learn over time that allowing cookies leads to a better, more personalized experience.

We achieve this technically by unlocking content only for readers that either have subscribed or fit a certain set of criteria, i.e. fall into a certain audience segment. This allows granting access based on a set of rules that often take cookie data into account (e.g. traffic source, zip code, device) but also rely on server-side data that allows real-time decisions - as opposed to a simple cookie-based meter.

How many articles a given reader can consume can again be decided via a meter or dynamically by checking against criteria such as device, location, socio-demographics or propensity to subscribe. This means that if the paywall settings aren’t performing well they can easily be changed and publishers are in full control over who reads their content and who has to pay to access.

Learn more about Conversion Engine, our machine learning-powered solution for dynamic paywalls and personalized customer journeys.