As long as The New York Times has had a metered paywall — it’s coming up on eight years! — people have been trying to sneak around it. While the paper has since had huge success getting millions of people to pay for digital news, it didn’t take long for people to realize that there was a pretty easy way to bypass it. (Innocent children unaware of this method: Cover your eyes and go play on TikTok or something.)
Switching your web browser to incognito mode — that’s Chrome’s name for it; it’s Private Browsing in Safari and Firefox — temporarily blocks a site’s ability to read or write cookies on your device, and cookies are most typically how a subscription site knows whether you’re a paying customer or not. If you put all of your content behind a hard paywall — always requiring a login to get access — incognito mode isn’t a big worry. But if you have a metered paywall — where the same content is freely available in some circumstances but not in others — incognito mode essentially resets the meter every time.
For all manner of paywall avoiders — tapped-out college students, information-wants-to-be-free ideologues, people who just need that one story — incognito mode has been a godsend.