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Under review

Users bypassing paywall with timing trick

Kevin M. Cox 6 months ago in BLOX CMS • updated by Patrick O'Lone (Director of Software Development) 6 months ago 12

It seems an enterprising non-subscriber has found a little glitch to access articles behind the paywall and his instructions are now making the rounds on social media.

Here are the instructions:

"I'm not too sure if I should be posting this. However, as someone who does PC/IT work and repair, I figure I could let some of y'all in on a way to read most of, if not all the article's without paying. (On Android using Chrome) Basically, I go to the article I want to read that is not free. Then I select "Request Desktop Site" in the browser settings. (the three dots on the top right)  Once that loads, (it puts a minor delay on the article loading) all of the article is displayed in its entirety for just a moment or two. A few seconds later the pop up to sign up for a subscription block's it all out. Now it's that small delay, prior to the subscription pop up, that we are after. In that delay, I do a screen shot of the article. (You might have to refresh the page and try again if you weren't quick enough the first time) After I successfully capture it, I then just read it via my picture gallery. If it's longer than my initial screen grab, 

I try a second time and scroll really quick to encompass the remainder of the article with another screen shot. If it's too long for those methods, I do a complete screen record. (video recording of your entire screen) then I go back through the recording and look frame by frame. Hope this helps some of y'all. You're welcome."

We've tested it out and have been able to confirm it works. While it isn't easy enough that I think we'll start losing subscribers over it, it also isn't that complicated to pull off.

I'm actually seeing it pretty consistently even on desktop browsers right now. It seems that the delay before the paywall message appears is much longer than it used to be. It looks like Town News might need to adjust the timing of how things are rendered so the full article isn't displayed until after the user has been evaluated as having an active subscription.

Have any of y'all come across readers doing this or something like it to bypass the paywall?

+1

There's also a way to do it via 3rd party sites, such as outline.com

Put "outline.com" in front of any URL and you can read the article in full.

Wow, that is pretty dang simple for anyone to use.

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Robert, support just told me how to fix this bypass by switching the site from "Hard paywall" to "Hard paywall with encryption." https://help.bloxcms.com/knowledge-base/applications/community/subscription/misc/article_a177722c-2be5-11e5-8d8a-534ce2eca693.html

The effort to do the above seems kind of like a stretch, no? Especially when private mode is easier and gets the job done (most) of the time.

The better effort would probably be spent finding more paying subscribers and providing value to them.

I've never seen private mode get around the paywall, it is what I use to test how things look to non subscribers.

But as Robert mentioned, the Outline.com method is dead simple for anyone to use, and that tip is now making the rounds in public here as well.

In my opinion any method that allows access past the paywall needs to be fixed.

The template developers made a change to remove the delay so the paywall message now pops up immediately.

I think it's good the developers removed the delay, but TownNews definitely needs to address the 'Outline' issue and others similar to it.

Thomas, look at my reply up higher from two weeks ago, they showed me a way to stop that.

Kevin, thanks. I did see that, but unfortunately, we have a metered paywall and not a hard paywall.

Under review

There is no practical way of blocking users in a metered wall scenario - only in a hard paywall (or registration wall) situation can something be done. Regarding outline.com, I'm going to be requesting a hard block on the scraper from that site. It uses a vendor called diffbot which does not appear to honor robots.txt. This will block from the whole cluster.

Thanks Patrick. That's encouraging.