Google recently announced changes to its Chrome browser’s incognito mode that would remove the ability to detect when a reader is in incognito mode.
This change, scheduled to be implemented in the latest version of the browser, Chrome 76, when it launches in late July, would severely limit access to high-quality journalism for millions of Americans, while also making it more difficult for publishers to gain valuable subscribers.
Currently, many news publishers use so-called “soft paywalls” that allow readers to access a limited number of articles per month for free without subscribing. This provides readers with reliable and easy-to-access information, while allowing publishers to attract new subscribers who want to support high-quality journalism. This arrangement only works, however, if publishers can accurately determine who reads their content, and how often. The planned changes to Chrome’s incognito mode would make such data impossible to obtain and force publishers to adopt a subscription-only model.
While we understand that much of the intent of the incognito mode is to protect consumers’ privacy, we believe that privacy can be protected in a way that does not undercut the ability to fund quality journalism.
Alliance President and CEO David Chavern stated, “It’s disappointing that Google is again unilaterally imposing its will on news publishers. As it stands now, Google’s planned changes will make it much harder for people to access news online. There are better ways to protect consumers’ privacy while enabling news publishers to charge for access to their news products, and to understand, even on an anonymous basis, who is engaging with their journalism.”
This knowledge allows publishers to form deeper relationships with their readers and communities by providing them with more relevant content, while also providing potential subscribers with free samples.
Chavern added, “Since incognito browsing circumvents soft paywalls, and therefore free-sampling opportunities, publishers may be forced to build hard paywalls that ultimately make it harder for readers to access news online.”
David Chavern serves as President & CEO of the News Media Alliance. Chavern has built a career spanning 30 years in executive strategic and operational roles, and most recently completed a decade-long tenure at the United States Chamber of Commerce.