Herald paywall can be bypassed in five clicks

May 15, 2019

Herald paywall can be bypassed in five clicks

Te Waha Nui was able to get past the paywall.

A weakness in the New Zealand Herald’s new digital paywall means premium stories are accessible without a subscription – but it requires a bit of technical nous.

The hack has been shared openly and discussed on Reddit and Twitter – but an expert in the technology says there could be good reasons for the apparent flaw.

Te Waha Nui was able to bypass the paywall with only five mouse clicks by making a simple edit to part of the code within the CSS web developer tools. But this has to be done for each story.

The problem results from how the Herald webpage delivers the content to non-subscribers, covering the text with a white graphic – but this can be turned off revealing the full text.

Matt Cooney, former editor of Idealog, Computerworld and current chief technology officer at SwipedOn, said the Herald likely had a good strategic reason to deliver the content in this way.

“It is easy to assume they are technically incompetent, but this is not the case. There are good reasons why they may have wanted to do it this way.

“For example, the guys using this little tweak to look at the stories probably weren’t going to buy a subscription anyway. For people who were going to buy a subscription, it’s not going to make a difference.”

The hack “is quite an inconvenient way to read the news, to put it mildly”.

Mr Cooney said there were many different paywall designs, with American newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times offering a reader a number of free stories before putting up their paywall.

This type of paywall could also be easily bypassed by simply clearing your browser cookies, or opening a new browser.

“They may decide that they would still rather those people read (their) stories, even cheating through the paywall and get the subscribers from people who actually want to read every day,” Mr Cooney said.

The New Zealand Herald is the biggest news outlet in New Zealand to put content behind a paywall and it marks a considerable shift in the media landscape. With this in mind, Mr Cooney did not think that the paywall was badly designed.

“What they are doing is hard and they are first to do it, so they are taking a massive risk.”

It was clear the free news business model was not going to work, he said.

“There is a real disadvantage to being the first to do something, but the status quo is unsustainable.”

Senior editors at The New Zealand Herald were either unavailable or could not be reached for comment by deadline.

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