Safari users can bypass paywalls with new private browsing mode

Getting users to subscribe to sites is already difficult enough for publishers but now the latest version of Apple's Safari browser is enabling users to read content locked behind a paywall for free.

The latest update to the browser, which began rolling out to users at the end of September, prevents sites from detecting when Safari users have the browser's private browsing mode enabled.

Just like Google's incognito mode, private browsing temporarily prevents publishers from reading or writing cookies to a user's smartphone or computer and this makes it impossible for a paywall to detect how much content a reader has consumed. Since the paywall is unable to verify how many articles a user has read, it simply allows them to access premium content without a subscription.

Publishers had previously implemented a number of countermeasures to prevent users from visiting their sites while in incognito mode but unfortunately, Safari's private browsing feature is able to bypass these measures.

Private browsing mode

Despite the popularity of Apple's iPhone and Mac products, far fewer Americans use Safari to browse the web and instead prefer to use Google's Chrome browser. According to Statcounter, Safari controls just nine percent of the US desktop browser market.

However, Safari users are more likely to pay for news and for many news outlets, they often represent a majority of their subscribers.

SVP of strategic initiatives at the News Media Alliance, Danielle Coffey explained to DIGIDAY that while private browsing mode helps protects users' privacy, its hurting news organizations, saying:

“This will lead to a hard paywall for all readers and also make it more difficult to monetize content. While we’re interested in protecting our readers’ privacy, we still need a return on our investments to sustain quality journalism.”

As the companies behind popular web browsers focus on privacy to both appeal to consumers and stay ahead of regulators, expect more media companies to begin locking their content behind paywalls as the practice of using cookies to let people read a few of their articles is no longer possible.


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