Bleg: Browser Filtering

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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29 Responses

  1. Patrick Cahalan says:

    Er… can’t you just turn on private browsing and go see the article anyway? They use cookies to track, right? I’m talking about 30% out of my ass here.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

      I was at my limit, but could read more after I deleted the cookie, so that sounds right..Report

      • It honestly never occurred to me that it might be that easy.Report

        • Trumwill in reply to Will Truman says:

          I feel like that guy talking to customer support saying “Of *course* I plugged the dang compu… ohthanksbye!”

          I can’t find the LA Times cookie, though removing all cookies does the trick. That may prove to be a pain, though.Report

        • david in reply to Will Truman says:

          It is that easy. In fact you can get add-ons to repeatedly clear NYTimes,, etc. cookies.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:


          Is this (deleting cookies) ethical? Based on our earlier conversations about shopping, I sensed you had a stricter set of ethics. To me, this seems blatantly unethical. But I’m curious to hear other thoughts.Report

          • Herb in reply to Kazzy says:

            Good question. My off-the-cuff not-really-thought-out response is “It’s about as ethical as providing an arbitrary number of ‘free’ views and then charging for the rest.”

            So maybe….not very ethical? I dunno.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Herb says:

              So if a bar gives you the first drink free and expects you to pay for each one after, that is unethical? Many businesses rely in free samples to demonstrate value before asking for payment. I see no objection.

              I do think that a news source is different, because of the unique legal protections/privileges they enjoy, but I don’t think simply subverting the system is the right response. I am also very anti-piracy so…Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                Really, the NYT’s issue is that they ever gave away their content for free. That was a mistake. But they shouldn’t be expected to give it away forever because of that mistake.

                I know a writer for ESPN who got moved behind their paywall. He is very concerned about folks sharing his content illicitly as his employment is predicated upon that paywall. If you don’t want to pay for the NYT, don’t read it.Report

              • Herb in reply to Kazzy says:

                Hmmm…not sure this is really that analogous.

                Better analogy: A bar offers ten free drinks per month, but charges for any after that.

                If that bar doesn’t have a problem convincing their customers that “free” is not the default price for a drink, I would be very surprised. If this price were a signal (and aren’t they all?) it’s a confusing one!

                Also, I don’t think you can fairly call a situation like this “theft.” It’s my understanding that hyperbole from the industry aside, copyright infringement should not be thought as “theft.”

                It’s also my understanding that “getting paid” is not one of the exclusive rights granted to copyright holders, and they certainly aren’t granted the right to prevent me from deleting their cookies off my machine. (This is the system they’re using? Really?)

                Let me be clear. Holding a copyright gives you the opportunity to get paid…but you still have to convince someone to fork over the money. The NYT has struggled with that since the Times Select days.

                (And yes, I think much of that has to do with the decision to give away content for free. I suspect the newspaper business would be in better shape if they had turned their websites into subscription portals rather than free digital versions of the paper. But that genie is out of the bottle, unfortunately.)Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Herb says:


       has gotten much better being transparent about their membership/free reading policy. Every time I view an article, it says, “This is your Xth free of 10 free articles this month.” When I hit 5, a big popup appears indicating I am halfway to my free alottment. You are right that they were confusing in the past, but folks who are deleting cookies know the policy well; they’re just exploiting it.

                Here is how I see it, leaving the vaguaries of copyright law aside:

                I create something. I have sole discretion over the means via which I distribute it. If my terms are such that you can view 10 of my creations for free but all other creations must be purchased, that is my right as the creator. As a consumer, you can agree to my terms, decline them, or negotiate. What you can’t do is agree to my terms and then break them; that is breach of contract, as I see it. It matters not whether my creation is a car or an article; it is the fruit of my labor and much like a wage, I cannot be forced to accept terms I do not agree with.

                Will has made a good point that the unique protections offered by copyright implies a responsibility in behalf of creators/distributors to not make terms too onerous. I thnk this is a fair point; I also don’t think the terms most distributors put forth are onerous. 99-cents a song, a few bucks a week for access to a quality paper… Those aren’t onerous.

                Most folks I know who pirate exceedingly or delete cookies justify it on the grounds that they want what they want and it isn’t their fault that they can get it for free. To me, this is like saying it is a shopkeepers fault if he doesn’t look his door; no theft occurred no matter how much merchandise is missing.Report

              • Herb in reply to Kazzy says:

                You make some good points, and some more that I can quibble with, but the biggest one is probably this:

                “As a consumer, you can agree to my terms, decline them, or negotiate.”

                I would put deleting the cookies in the “decline” column. It sucks –for the NYT– that people are able to decline the terms and the content is still available to them, but that’s a business problem. (I suspect this will be easier to do in our tableted-future than it is now.)

                Here’s another analogy:
                An artist paints a picture. He convinces someone to hang it up in a public building, but requires anyone who views the painting to put a quarter in a jar as part of his terms.

                Do we expect everyone who doesn’t put a quarter in the jar to avert their gaze?

                How much responsibility does the consumer have to make sure that the copyright owner is getting their due? Is that the proper role of the consumer?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


                I’m not sure that the painting analogy is perfect; a better parallel would be patrons who say, “Well, it said I had to put a quarter in… it didn’t say I had to leave it there,” before removing their quarter and carrying on.

                The NYT would be wise to sure up their system such that deleting cookies is not sufficient to read unlimited articles. But I feel we are now back to blaming the shopkeeper for having insufficient security. Sure, he bears some responsibility; but that does not negate that of the deliberately deceitful consumer.

                What really bothers me is the glee with which some people (not necessarily those here) celebrate their wayward ways… as if commerce is simply a system of who can best pull one over on the other person best. “See! I tricked ’em! Take that, NYT!”Report

              • Herb in reply to Kazzy says:

                “But I feel we are now back to blaming the shopkeeper for having insufficient security.”

                That’s because you’re still thinking of this in terms of “theft.”

                Let’s just be clear about something: When someone clears the cookies on their machine, they are stealing exactly zero items from the New York Times.

                Copyrights do not give content creators the right to dictate terms. It gives them the right to offer terms.

                Big difference there…

                Everything that’s created is copyrighted automatically, but very little of it has any actual value in the marketplace. That’s just a fact of life. I think what the NYT is discovering here is that their content is much more valuable when it’s published on newsprint than it is when it’s published on the world wide web. (Which, as a technical matter, is only a piece of that big thing we call “the internet.”)Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to Kazzy says:

                The NYT would be wise to sure up their system such that deleting cookies is not sufficient to read unlimited articles. But I feel we are now back to blaming the shopkeeper for having insufficient security.

                As I note below, you don’t have to delete cookies — installing NoScript and marking the NY Times as untrusted is sufficient. So, it’s not just a matter of them saying, “Let me store a piece of data on your computer that my server can use to count your page views,” but rather, “Let me run a piece of code on your computer to check your page views.” That’s asking a whole lot more, at least IMO, as it’s simply not possible for me to run the script and ensure that it won’t do damage, either intentionally or accidentally.

                The NY Times puts content up on a public server. I choose to download bits and pieces selectively. I download bits and pieces selectively from everywhere on the Web — AdBlock Plus blocks a lot of pieces. For example, when I check the front page of the Times, it blocks 28 of 151 items. On my local Denver Post front page, 25 of 136. This is a technology battle that the content providers can’t win. They could enforce a set of rules that includes mandating that the cookies remain intact and that you run their scripts and that you display all of the content they send you — but to enforce that, their database and content servers are going to have to be a lot bigger and more expensive, and no one can look at content with identifying themselves in some fashion.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’ll also add that I was already running NoScript with the LA Times marked as untrusted when the Times instituted their limit. As a result, what I experienced was that the Times simply hadn’t followed through on their threat. I don’t see where they can realistically ask me to disable my existing security measures so that their article limit works.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                Mike and Herb,

                I’m talking specifically about folks who go out of their way to violate the NYT’s limit. If you delete cookies only so that you can read more NYT articles, I think you’re being unethical.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to Kazzy says:

                Kazzy: “I’m talking specifically about folks who go out of their way to violate the NYT’s limit. If you delete cookies only so that you can read more NYT articles, I think you’re being unethical.”

                There’s probably a decent top-level post in that statement somewhere. Consider the situation of liability around having a swimming pool in your back yard. A kid who has no business being there falls in and drowns. Whether you’re liable or not will often boil down to how high and strong your fence is. One could argue that the Times article limit implementation is analogous to a fence that the kid could just step over. The Times wants to store the article count on your machine, and they want you to run code on your machine to check if you’ve reached the limit. The mechanism can be casually — and even inadvertently — defeated. Basically the Times is saying, “We’re going to put articles up in a public place. We request that you only read ten of the articles per month without paying. We’re going to count accidently reading something trivial against your limit, even if you followed a bad link that we provided. And we’re not going to make any serious efforts to stop you from reading more without paying.” One can argue, I think, that the Times is in the position of asking for a contribution, and nothing more.

                I looked at security professionally in the early days of the Web (to the extent of holding a patent in the field). Even back then, I would have been laughed out of the room if I had suggested the Times’ arrangement as meaningful security.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kazzy says:

                I create something. I have sole discretion over the means via which I distribute it.

                So far so good.

                If my terms are such that you can view 10 of my creations for free but all other creations must be purchased, that is my right as the creator.

                Er, no. That’s your business plan. It’s not your “right” if your mechanism for enforcing your business plan is flawed and annoying for customers. Like, say, Sony BMG can’t put a root kit on my computer to prevent me from copying their CDs.

                As a consumer, you can agree to my terms, decline them, or negotiate.

                In fact, we cannot do those things. There is no mechanism for us to negotiate, nor (on the Internet) is there necessarily a mechanism for me to know your terms before I view your content.

                What you can’t do is agree to my terms and then break them; that is breach of contract, as I see it

                Provided that I’m informed of your terms, and they are reasonable terms, and then I choose to agree to them *and* then break them, I stand with you on that.

                That’s a lot of “ifs” in there.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                I think a lot of folks do exactly what you describe in your last paragraph.

                I’m a big believer in truth in advertising and labeling. If a company is unclear, deliberately or not, on the terms they are attempting to provide on, they are accountable for that.

                If you reach your 10-article limit on day 3 of a month and you had no idea and NYT gave you no information about the limit, I wouldn’t really fault you for deleting cookies for the remainder of that month. But doing it month after month, knowing full-well what the policy is? Ignoring the little box they now put in the corner telling you that you’ve read X of your free articles, ignoring the pop-up that tells you when you’re halfway there and all the way there? Those folks I don’t have much sympathy for. The folks here, touting the ways that they simply ignore the rules they know, I find that problematic.

                For the record, I don’t think the NYT’s model is the best. As I’ve said, I think they screwed the pooch when they gave their content away for free and then tried to get the cat back into the bag. I don’t know if the 10-free-articles-per-month approach is the best one. But it is also not the worst one. I would say it is a reasonable one, one that people who are fully aware of it ought to follow. If their terms were overly onerous, I think an argument can be made that they are abusing the privileges and rights afforded them as journalist and copyright holders. I don’t think they are there with the current model.

                I think some people just want stuff for free and will justify it morally/ethically after the fact. Reading 100 articles a month from a periodical by repeatedly deleting your cookies is hard to justify ethically.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Let me put it to you this way: I don’t feel the need to allow companies to track what I do on the Internet.

                If your site won’t let me view your content without accepting your cookies or unblocking your popups, hey, that’s okay with me.

                But if you let me view your site when I’m not allowing your cookies and I’m blocking your popups, that’s your decision. It’s not on me to check to see if I’m following your use policy; because you reserve the right to change it at any time so I don’t consider that a contract, at all. Not in any way, shape, or form.

                I won’t go out of my way to go around your policy, but I won’t change my browsing habits to accommodate your policy, either… and I don’t feel any ethical obligation to check and see if my interaction with your site is according to your use. It’s up to you to enforce your use restrictions, if you want them.

                If the NYT goes behind a real paywall, that’s okay with me. If they stop letting me browse the site when I have private browsing enabled, that’s okay with me, too.Report

          • Trumwill in reply to Kazzy says:

            I think it depends. If it’s a local paper, I sorta do feel an obligation to pay for it if I am reading through the website as though it were a paper. If I weren’t leaving Arapaho, I’d do so with Redstone’s paper.

            When it’s an out of town paper, though, I feel less compunction about it. I’m not going to subscribe to the LA Times unless I live in SoCal. Therefore, I don’t feel like I’m costing them any money.

            The Economist is dicier because I should subscribe and want to subscribe, but can’t quite pull the trigger on it.

            Anyway, what I am mostly looking for here is a way to better choose which articles I read. I’m fine with only ten NYT articles. I just hate it when I click on some link and find that I used one of them on a recipe for twinkies that I never would have clicked on had I know it was a NYT link.

            (I wouldn’t actually say my ethics are strict. Just that they’re odd. As I said in the shopping conversation, even though I have never done either I can actually more easily justify sneaking into a movie theater than I can sneaking candy into a movie that I paid to see.)Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Trumwill says:

              I realize filtering to avoid inadvertent clicks is different than deleting cookies; I take no issue with that (and thinkyou might be onto something if it doesn’t yet exist). But deliberately manipulating a system to get something for free that the purveyor does not want you to have for free seems like, well, theft.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kazzy says:

                If you don’t want people to get a copy of it, don’t put it on the Internet.

                I honestly didn’t even know until just now that the NYTimes even limited your article viewing.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:


                Would the world be better or worse off if the NYT put nothing on the internet?Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kazzy says:

                Dude, I don’t read the NYT online (I’ll occasionally follow a link there to read source articles, but that’s nearly entirely for fair use purposes)… and I’m pretty sure a very small overall percentage of the rest of the world does. If I’m going to pay for anybody’s content, it’s going to be AP/Reuters.

                I feel no obligation to go out of my way to enable their current business model. To be clear, I don’t think it’s kosher to intentionally dodge their policies with the intent of reading their site for free, either.

                They don’t get to dictate how I browse the Internet, is all.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:


                I’m talking about the folks who intentionally dodge.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Well, I’m with you there… free riders who do so consciously are always worthy of contempt.

                Even if what they’re free-riding on outta be free.Report

  2. Michael Cain says:

    NoScript, and then mark the LA and NY Times as untrusted. The article count may be stored in a cookie, but the decision is being made by a script running on the browser. For the occasional article with interactive content that you want to see, mark them as being temporarily trusted. I find it much easier than trying to manage cookies.Report