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Google Scraps Controversial Policy That Gave Free Access To Paywalled Articles Through Search (theverge.com) 97

For years, Google has provided a nifty trick to get around subscriptions for newspapers and magazines. But the company is now doing away with it. From a report: Google is ending its controversial First Click Free (FCF) policy that publishers loathed because it required them to allow Google search results access to news articles hidden behind a paywall. The company is replacing the decade-old FCF with Flexible Sampling, which allows publishers instead to decide how many (if any) articles they want to allow potential subscribers to access. Google says it's also working on a suite of new tools to help publishers reach new audiences and grow revenue. Via FCF, users could access an article for free but would be prompted to log-in or subscribe if they clicked anywhere else on the page. Publishers were required to allow three free articles per day which Google indexed so that they appeared in searches for a particular topic or keyword. Opting out of the FCF feature was detrimental because it demoted a publisher's ranking on Google Search and Google News.
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Google Scraps Controversial Policy That Gave Free Access To Paywalled Articles Through Search

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  • One can only hope. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by msauve ( 701917 ) on Monday October 02, 2017 @09:48AM (#55292429)
    Hopefully, Google will also recognize paywalled sites and refuse to index them, or at least put them at the bottom of the results.
    • Hopefully, Google will also recognize paywalled sites and refuse to index them, or at least put them at the bottom of the results.

      TFA literally says they are giving them an alternate means to have their sites indexed. It's the exact opposite of good news because it just blocks an avenue by which to read things for free which would otherwise be behind a paywall.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Atleast google has that down arrow you can click to view related articles, at least one of them is likely to not be pay walled. But they do need to come of with some way to notate pay walled articles, and while they're at it flag the sites that pester you to turn off your ad block to view an article. Nothing like getting a paragraph or two into an article just to have that dumb ass shit pop up.

        • I have good news and bad news.

          But they do need to come of with some way to notate pay walled articles

          Good news: Google Search on desktop browsers fairly reliably notates paywalled articles through the lack of "Cached" in the down arrow menu.

          Bad news: The down arrow menu doesn't appear in mobile browsers.

          and while they're at it flag the sites that pester you to turn off your ad block to view an article.

          Bad news: Now that Google has established its pay-per-article system known as Contributor [google.com], Google has actually joined the anti-adblock brigade [doubleclickbygoogle.com]. It even recommends that users of Firefox Private Browsing click a button labeled "Disable protection" to allow access to a site. (T

    • It'd be great if you could let google know which paywalled sites you subscribe to so that those still appear but others choose not to.

    • by Merk42 ( 1906718 )
      This.
      People shouldn't be paid for their work. I'm entitled to free content!
      • Oh, please.

        If the means by which people are choosing to get paid involves subjecting their audience to the online advertising industry and the tracking that goes with it, that's their own fault, not mine. Such advertising is far from the only way to get paid, it's just the easiest for the websites.

        I don't object to reasonable advertising. I will not tolerate the tracking, though, and until it stop then I am keeping my adblocker in place and not disabling it for anybody. If that means I'm locked out of some

        • by tepples ( 727027 )

          I don't object to reasonable advertising. I will not tolerate the tracking, though, and until it stop then I am keeping my adblocker in place and not disabling it for anybody. If that means I'm locked out of some sites, then so be it.

          That's why I use the tracking protection built into Firefox [mozilla.org]. It's enabled by default in Private Browsing windows and can be enabled through about:config for use outside Private Browsing. It and the similar Disconnect extension [disconnect.me] should cover ad networks and ad exchanges that track users across sites. This gives the user plausible deniability against accusations of freeloading, as it a publisher (operator of a website that carries ads) can still serve self-hosted ads to tracking blocker users.

          • I use Firefox's tracking protection as well, but I consider it incomplete -- so I use NoScript in addition to it. I don't use an extension specifically designed to adblock (NoScript covers that as a side-effect), but I do use a rather huge hosts file to redirect ad company domain names to localhost (I do this on my phone as well).

            • by tepples ( 727027 )

              I do use a rather huge hosts file to redirect ad company domain names to localhost

              Ad companies appear to have already started to defeat hosts by using pseudorandom subdomains. APK's solution can't block these, but Firefox tracking protection [mozilla.org] can:

              For each HTTP load, Firefox looks up multiple URL fragments based on Safe Browsing regex lookup [google.com]. This allows us to blocklist all subdomains of a tracking domain without enumerating each one.

              (I do this on my phone as well).

              What method do you use for this? VPN or root?

              • Ad companies appear to have already started to defeat hosts by using pseudorandom subdomains. APK's solution can't block these

                This is true (although I bristle at calling this "APK's solution", since this has been around longer than APK has). So far, this has been pretty easy to compensate for with wildcard entries, but I see the day coming when that won't be a decent solution anymore. I've been working on other ideas to handle it in the longer term.

                What method do you use for this? VPN or root?

                Both. When I'm away from my own WiFi, my phone sets up a VPN connection to my home network. When that's in play, then the ad networks are blocked by my network's firewall. The phone al

        • by Merk42 ( 1906718 )
          TFA is about paywall sites. Sites that get their revenue from subscriptions instead of advertising.
          • by tepples ( 727027 )

            Some website operators and Internet VOD providers insist on both a subscription to see anything and an additional subscription to view documents without ads.

            • by Merk42 ( 1906718 )
              Sure, some do, but the original comment and article is about paywalled sites as a whole, making no distinction between sites that are paywall only and paywall and advertising.
        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Most of it is just trying to charge you for free stuff anyway. How often does a Slashdot story include "story may be paywalled, click here to read the same thing for free"?

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        They can get paid, they just can't waste my time baiting me into visiting their web site only to be hit with a demand for payment.

        Aside from anything it's false advertising and SEO scamming. Google doesn't appreciate it when you present different content to their indexing bot and to browsers.

        • by Merk42 ( 1906718 )
          I got this circular in the mail advertising products they had in stock, but then when I went to the store I had to pay for them?! Such false advertising!
          • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

            Junk mail is well understood to be advertising things that are for sale. Search results with snippets of articles are understood to take you to those articles to read.

            It would be fine if Google put a little icon to indicate non-free content next to such results, and allowed you to filter them out.

            • by Merk42 ( 1906718 )
              So no effect on its ranking, but just an icon next to it? I'd honestly be fine with that.
              • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

                A paywall will get the site down-ranked naturally anyway. People will link to it a lot less often.

    • by AvitarX ( 172628 )

      I'd love a search tool that let me filter out the pay sites I won't be able to read.

  • Best Solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Luthair ( 847766 ) on Monday October 02, 2017 @09:49AM (#55292439)
    Give me as a user the optional to hide sites with paywalls.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Indeed. Or at least put the result at the bottom of the page with a big red P next to it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by alexo ( 9335 )

      Give me as a user the optional to hide sites with paywalls.

      You are the product, not the customer.

      You have as much say about Google's practices as the cows have about the MacDonald's menu.

  • What a coincedence (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bill Hayden ( 649193 ) on Monday October 02, 2017 @09:49AM (#55292449) Homepage

    I too have a decades-old policy: I don't use pay-walled sites.

    • Since the choice we're given is often between ads that spy on you and paying money, I have taken to paying money for sites that are important to me.

      But only if paying money allows me to keep my browser defenses up.

      • by tepples ( 727027 )

        With the 30 cent swipe fee that credit card networks charge, how can a user afford to read one article from each of 20 sites?

        • They can't , at least until someone comes up with a reasonable micropayments system for websites. I'm still baffled by why nobody seems to be able to make this work, given that laundromats have been doing it for years now.

          But I'm not going to pay to read a single article. I pay sites that I read regularly, and there aren't 20 of those.

  • NoScript (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bing Tsher E ( 943915 ) on Monday October 02, 2017 @09:55AM (#55292495) Journal

    I have found that if you enforce javascript blocking using NoScript, some sites that only want you to be able to view a certain 'count' of articles for free just can't keep track and don't block you.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I have found that if you enforce javascript blocking using NoScript, some sites that only want you to be able to view a certain 'count' of articles for free just can't keep track and don't block you.

      Block the cookies they use to keep track of you, block the javascript they use to do shit you don't need, block pretty much all third party shit because it's pretty much parasites, block Flash because only a fucking idiot runs Flash on the general internet.

      If it ends up being paywalled, block the whole site and

  • Sigh, Google (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Monday October 02, 2017 @10:16AM (#55292707)

    I DONT WANT content in search results that I can't actually view.

    Fine, get rid of FCF if you want, but then either blacklist subscription sites from search indexes, OR require indexed content match what I can see and
    give me a checkbox to omit them from search results (preferably checked by default).

    • I don't want that either. But I don't pay google's bills, so I might not get to pick.

  • Just delete your cookies and you're good to go.

  • As with many others here, I don't want results from sites that I can't visit. I understand that Google wants the data, but there's no reason that I need to see that mixed in. Google currently has a feature for Chrome users that not many people seem to be aware of called the Personal Blocklist. You can get the extension from Google here:

    https://chrome.google.com/webs... [google.com]

    After you've installed it, when you're on a google search results page, you'll see a small link to "block example.com" under each result. No

  • Publishers were required to allow three free articles per day which Google indexed so that they appeared in searches for a particular topic or keyword. Opting out of the FCF feature was detrimental because it demoted a publisher's ranking on Google Search and Google News.

    Wait wait hold on a sec. I thought Google played innocent on rankings by claiming it was all algorithms.

    • by tepples ( 727027 )

      I guess the algorithm used to be that if the document presented to Googlebot is much longer than the document presented to a Chrome user who opts into telemetry, cloaking is happening. Now it's still an algorithm: Google Search will ignore CSS classes marked as paywalled through JSON-LD when making that determination.

  • As usual, many of the comments reflect the idea that us peons are Google's customers. We want Google to cater to OUR needs, instead of Google's real customers...those who pay Google real money to show up in search results. It is funny to hear people who never want to pay a cent for anything expect their needs to be considered by (and be a top priority for) various businesses who are in it for the money.
  • There are no subscriptions I'm willing to pay for, other than water, gas, electricity, garbage and Internet. If I'm not willing to subscribe to newspapers, cable TV, streaming TV/movies, magazines, etc. I'm definitely not going to consider subscribing to your online site. I really hope google makes it possible for you to be hidden from me.

  • Oh goody.. Now I will NOT be tempted to follow more bad news.... This will greatly aid my withdrawal from the internet as it has become.
  • Google says that paywalled news sites won't get downranked. It may be true in the sense that there won't be an explicit penalty.
    However, a common reaction after hitting a paywall is to go back to the search page and find something else. Normally, in that situation, googles downranks the offending site, considering that it didn't match the user's needs.

  • ...but when I hit a paywall, I always close the window. There are so many other ways to get information today, it's not worth me trying to figure out if the content is worth buying if I can't even get to hit. That goes double for that stupid Forbes loading screen as well.
  • How is google supposed to know that a page is browser-UA-sniffing and blocking anything that isn't google bot? Personally I'd love to see if google abandoned their custom UA in favor of faking a regular browser so this kind of BS stops.

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