Chrome: Bypassing paywalls-and detecting a user’s methods for doing so-is a cat-and mouse game that has been going on between news publishers and readers for some time. While viewing a website in Incognito mode has been the tried-and-true method for
sticking it to journalists getting around a site’s restrictions on how many free articles you can view at any given time, publishers are not without tricks of their own. Lately, some websites have gotten more creative with how they detect Incognito mode:
We’ve previously talked about a special flag you can adjust in Chrome’s settings that should prevent websites from being able to tell that you’re using Incognito mode. As of Chrome 74, it didn’t work very well.
Now, if you upgrade your browser to Chrome 75-click the triple-dot icon in the upper-right corner, click on Help, and click on “About Google Chrome”-this little trick actually seems to work again. To enable it (if you haven’t previously), type chrome://flags into your address bar, search for the phrase “filesystem,” and pick “Enabled” on the drop-down menu for the “Filesystem API in Incognito” setting.
This is all a moot point, though, as Google is upping the ante considerably by enabling this flag-by default-in Chrome 76, scheduled for a public release in late July. If you want to try it out right now, you can go ahead and download the recently released Beta channel version of the browser.
Are news publishers thrilled with Chrome’s upcoming adjustment? Probably not. Will they find another way to detect and limit Chrome browsers running Incognito mode? Probably so.
This shouldn’t matter, since you should really pay your favorite publisher the pitifully small monthly subscription price it requests for news. That’s the Lawful Good move. However, for an occasional one-off article, Incognito mode-a trick that’s been around for more than a decade-is about as ethically dubious as going back for a second free sample at Costco. Don’t abuse it, because then you’re a jerk, but don’t have a moral panic if you used it to view four articles in a month instead of the three free ones you’re allowed to enjoy. It happens.
How to test if your browser is hiding Incognito mode
If you’re ever curious whether a website can tell if you’re using Chrome’s Incognito mode, visit the strangely named site jsfiddle.net/w49x9f1a/. When you pull it up, the site will run a quick test and report the results in the corner of your browser:
The goal? To make sure that this website says your browser isn’t running Incognito mode when it is. If the site correctly detects Incognito mode, something is amiss: You’re either running an older version of Chrome, you didn’t set the aforementioned flag correctly, or something is wrong about Chrome’s implementation of the Filesystem API in Incognito mode.