Tag Archives: Google News Initiative

Media literacy for Asia’s next generation

When I served as U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, it often struck me that young people there had vastly more access to news and information than I did when I first lived in that country 20 years earlier—a sign of how things can change for the better from generation to generation.  


The internet has enabled people in Vietnam and across Asia Pacific to learn, connect and express themselves in ways we couldn’t have imagined in the past. We need to keep expanding those opportunities, but we also need to help the next generation explore the internet with confidence as they come online.


As Google marks UNESCO Global Media and Information Literacy Week, we’re building on our efforts to promote media literacy and combat misinformation. We’re constantly working to make a difference with our own products, like improving our algorithms to prioritize authoritative sourcesand original reporting in search results. At the same time, through a $10 million Google News Initiative media literacy campaign funded by Google.org, we’re supporting expert organizations across the region as they develop new approaches for teaching media literacy. 


In Southeast Asia, this includes programs run by the Indonesian Anti-Slander Society and the Child and Youth Media Institute in Thailand to create video teaching tools for local schools, building on a pilot program we developed with the University of Hong Kong. And today we took the next step, announcing that Google.org will support a new initiative run by the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication in the Philippines. The funding will enable the AIJC to hold “school summits” across the country, training 300 high school teachers so they can teach media literacy to around 9,000 students each year—helping them tell the difference between misinformation and reliable news online.


We asked Ramon Tuazon, President of the AIJC, to tell us a bit more.  


In 2017, the Philippines became the first country in Asia to make media and information literacy (MIL) part of its high school curriculum. Why is this so important?  


When we first started discussing adding MIL to the curriculum in 2013, we knew we had to address misrepresentation and propaganda in traditional media as well as social media. But we also had to deal with the new challenges the internet has created, including the fact that young people are becoming media literate online before they learn ethics and responsibility in how to use technology.  


With the new campaign, what do you hope students and teachers get out of the experience? 

I hope the students gain new perspectives and better understand how to verify news, deal with their biases and be sensitive to misinformation and disinformation. For teachers, I hope the training helps them learn new, creative and engaging teaching approaches.  Over the long term, I hope both teachers and students will be able to go out and challenge misinformation on social media and other platforms.  

What’s next after this initial campaign? 

We’ll be working closely with the Department of Education to continue improving how we teach media and information literacy as part of the curriculum, including through new tools and better teacher training.  Our challenge is to expand this new initiative nationwide.

Why Mahoning Matters is putting local readers first

Today marks the launch of Mahoning Matters, The Compass Experiment’s first digital-only news outlet, which will serve readers in Youngstown, Ohio and the surrounding Mahoning Valley. We chose our name because it reflects what we believe: The people and happenings of the Mahoning Valley matter. And, when properly informed and engaged, the people have the power to affect change. 

Our mission statement is simple: We seek to tell the stories that matter in Mahoning County and empower citizens to engage in their community with a focus on solutions. We will tell the local stories that aren't being told anywhere else in the Mahoning Valley, focusing on the “how” and “why” behind the news.

The Compass Experiment was founded in partnership between McClatchy and the Google News Initiative’s Local Experiments Project to experiment with a variety of revenue models with the goal of creating local news operations that are financially self-sustaining. After we announced our first site would open in Youngstown, we got to work on building a news outlet with the community in mind. 

The first part of the puzzle was hiring a team with deep local ties to the area. The entire Mahoning Matters team joined us from The Vindicator, Youngstown’s daily newspaper that closed in August 2019 after 150 years in business. Our staff lives and works out in the community every day, often holding team meetings in cafes and libraries where they can best interact with readers.

The second way we put the readers first in building Mahoning Matters was by getting out and talking to them. In August, we held a series of community forums in partnership with the Youngstown and Mahoning County Public Library to find out what readers needed and wanted from a local news site. We also had one-on-one discussions with community leaders and other local media.

Mahoning Matters reader suggestions

Community member suggestions about local news. (Photo by Abby Reimer.)


Attendees at our forums said they wanted a clear-eyed look at their community, highlighting its successes as well as problems to be solved. Above all, they were concerned that Mahoning County was going to lose access to the watchdog reporting that The Vindicator had provided for so many years. 

With a small team, we know we can’t afford to do everything. So we are focusing on topics of utmost importance to those living in the region, which includes coverage of government, healthcare, housing and the local economy as well as community-centric features like obituaries, local events and high school sports. 

Mahoning Matters’ revenue model is centered on content sponsorship, digital advertising and a membership component to be added later. Borrowing from our partners at Village Media, we offer local businesses an in-depth and customizable home within our directory, sponsorships of appealing content categories and locally-focused, brand safe display advertising.

We hope to learn quite a bit about how to sustain original local news from the work of Mahoning Matters, lessons which we will continue to share with the broader media community. In fact, we’ve already learned so much from creating this site that will be helpful as we turn our focus to identifying and creating the next Compass site in the months to come. 

How Google invests in news

Every time you search on Google, there are thousands, sometimes millions, of webpages with helpful information. When you’re looking for news, those pages could be from a large traditional news publisher or a new digital outlet. They could be from a local news site, or a small publisher specializing in health or fitness or food or fashion. Our job is to sort through those and connect you with the most relevant information. 


At the same time, we recognize that the internet has changed the way we find and access information, and that publishers are facing challenging business environments as a result. So I’d like to talk about how we connect people with news and how we support news publishers around the world. 


Our approach to search 


People trust Google to help them find useful and authoritative information, from a diverse range of sources. To uphold that trust, search results must be determined by relevance—not by commercial partnerships


That’s why we don’t accept payment from anyone to be included in search results. We sell ads, not search results, and every ad on Google is clearly marked. That’s also why we don’t pay publishers when people click on their links in a search result. 


To operate in any other way would reduce the choice and relevance to our users—and would ultimately result in the loss of their trust in our services.


At the same time, we work closely with the news industry to provide value to publishers and journalists around the world. We do this in many ways—through Google Search and Google News, which help people find and access news content and enables us to send large amounts of traffic to publishers. We’ve also created advertising and subscription tools that help publishers grow new revenue, and our funding of programs and training as part of the Google News Initiative provides benefits to the news industry.


The changing news industry


When I was growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s, my local newspaper was, in a sense, the internet of my community. It was where I kept up with local events but also where my dad found my first car, where I found my first job, where my mom found recipes for Sunday dinner and discount coupons for the ingredients. Today the internet has dramatically changed how we do all of those things through the vast array of information and services found there.


This shift has affected the revenue streams that publishers have traditionally relied on. Readers no longer go to newspapers for classified listings of jobs, apartments, or used cars. Instead, they go online to access a new world of options, whether that’s apartment listings, or for the latest food and fashion tips, movie reviews and recipes. Advertisers have followed suit, increasing spending on the websites of thousands of online publishers and service providers; they now have enormous choice in how they reach people online. 


How Google provides value to publishers


Advertising remains a key revenue stream for publishers (along with subscriptions)—but they have also shifted their focus to digital. Publishers want to be found by users so they can then grow revenue through ads or by converting readers into loyal subscribers. And Google helps publishers and journalists by helping people find news content and sending them to news sites.


In the world of print, publishers pay newsstands to display their newspapers and magazines so readers can discover them. Google provides this benefit to publishers at no cost. This creates real value: In Europe alone, people click on the news content Google links to more than 8 billion times a month—that’s 3,000 clicks per second we drive to publishers’ own websites. For large news publishers, a study byDeloitte puts the value of each click between 4-6 euro cents. 


Beyond the traffic we send to publishers, we continue to invest in and provide value to the news industry in other ways. Google’s advertising technologies are used by many websites, including news publishers, where publishers retain the vast majority of the ad revenue. In 2018, Google sent more than 14 billion dollars to publishers around the world. 


Our Google News Initiative is investing $300 million to help news publishers around the world develop new products and business models that fit the different publishing marketplace the Internet has enabled. And we continue to make improvements to connect people with news from our products. 


Giving everyone better access to relevant and authoritative news, from a range of diverse sources, helps them stay informed about the news that matters to them. The news industry is fundamental to the health of our open societies and we’re committed to playing our part in ensuring a successful and sustainable future for news.


An experimental lab for local news in the U.K.

A sustainable digital model for local news: That’s the aim of a three-year partnership between Google and U.K. publisher Archant. Project Neon will rethink local news from every perspective, from storytelling to layout, from business models to website design. It builds on Archant’s open-minded approach to building new models for journalism, from the launch of The New European to the archive voice-search platform Local Recall.  

Project Neon will target up to three U.K. communities, identified as being currently underserved by local news. The project will build new all-digital news platforms for those communities, created in a concerted effort to reverse the commercial challenges local news publishers have faced in the past decade.

Archant’s project team will work closely with a team of experts at Google, who are providing funding for the project as part of the Local Experiments Project of the Google News Initiative. Archant is the second partner worldwide in this project, following McClatchy in the United States, which launched their Compass Experiment in March.

The new businesses created under Project Neon will be 100 percent owned and operated by Archant. Google’s interest lies in developing digital business models and operational approaches that can be shared with the wider industry, and while they are providing expertise and funding, they will have no input whatsoever in editorial decision-making. 

We at Archant have been in the news business since 1845, when four free-thinking businessmen launched a weekly newspaper called The Norfolk News. Now, nearly 175 years later, we have a collection of more than 50 local news brands across the U.K. It's no secret that in recent years, our industry has been more challenged than at any other time in its history. But local news is as important as ever, and if we are going to find a sustainable digital-only model, it is bold experiments such as Project Neon that will help provide a pathway to thriving local news.

With support and expertise from the Google News Initiative, I believe Archant has the potential to deliver exciting new solutions for local news brands, not only in the U.K. but also in other parts of the world where the local news business is in decline. We will release more details of the project in the near future, including the locations of our target communities. We will chronicle our successes (and, no doubt, our failures) and share them publicly with the industry at large, enabling other media companies to do similar work.

Nobody can accurately predict how the future of local journalism will look. But with our shared vision for building strong communities, Archant and the Google News Initiative will break new ground towards the goal of a local news industry that not only survives, but thrives. Those interested can sign up to receive updates on Project Neon.

Elevating original reporting in Search

Google Search was built to provide everyone access to information on the web—and with tens of thousands of web pages, hundreds of hours of video, thousands of tweets and news stories published every minute of the day, our job is to sift through that content and find the most helpful results possible. With news in particular, we always aim to show a diversity of articles and sources to give users as much context and insight as possible.   

An important element of the coverage we want to provide is original reporting, an endeavor which requires significant time, effort and resources by the publisher. Some stories can also be both critically important in the impact they can have on our world and difficult to put together, requiring reporters to engage in deep investigative pursuits to dig up facts and sources.  These are among the reasons why we aim to support these industry efforts and help people get access to the most authoritative reporting.

Recently, we’ve made ranking updates and published changes to our search rater guidelinesto help us better recognize original reporting, surface it more prominently in Search and ensure it stays there longer. This means readers interested in the latest news can find the story that started it all, and publishers can benefit from having their original reporting more widely seen.

Ranking changes to support original reporting 

In today’s fast-paced world of news, the original reporting on a subject doesn’t always stay in the spotlight for long. Many news articles, investigations, exclusive interviews or other work can be so notable that they generate interest and follow-up coverage from other publications. And in other cases, many stories cover a single news development, with all of them published around the same time. This can make it difficult for users to find the story that kicked everything off.

While we typically show the latest and most comprehensive version of a story in news results, we've made changes to our products globally to highlight articles that we identify as significant original reporting. Such articles may stay in a highly visible position longer. This prominence allows users to view the original reporting while also looking at more recent articles alongside it.

There is no absolute definition of original reporting, nor is there an absolute standard for establishing how original a given article is. It can mean different things to different newsrooms and publishers at different times, so our efforts will constantly evolve as we work to understand the life cycle of a story.

Changing our rater guidelines

We use algorithms to sort through everything we find on the web and organize this content in a way that is helpful. Those algorithms are composed of hundreds of different signals that are constantly updated and improved. To tune and validate our algorithms and help our systems understand the authoritativeness of individual pages, we have more than 10,000 raters around the world evaluating our work - their feedback doesn't change the ranking of the specific results they're reviewing; instead it is used to evaluate and improve algorithms in a way that applies to all results. The principles that guide how they operate are mapped out in our search rater guidelines, a public document that allows raters to better understand and assess the unique characteristics of content that appears in Search results. 

In short: these guidelines are the clear description of what we value in content when ranking.  And we’ve just introduced a change to help us gather new feedback so that our automated ranking systems can better surface original content. 

To illustrate the update, in section 5.1 of the guidelines, we instruct raters to use the highest rating, “very high quality,” for original news reporting “that provides information that would not otherwise have been known had the article not revealed it. Original, in-depth, and investigative reporting requires a high degree of skill, time, and effort.”

In addition to recognizing individual instances of original reporting at the page level, we also ask raters to consider the publisher’s overall reputation for original reporting. That update in section 2.6.1 reads: “Many other kinds of websites have reputations as well. For example, you might find that a newspaper (with an associated website) has won journalistic awards. Prestigious awards, such as the Pulitzer Prize award, or a history of high quality original reporting are strong evidence of positive reputation.”

We hope these updates to elevate original reporting will provide people with a deeper understanding of their changing communities and the conversations going on around them. Giving everyone better access to original journalism across all types of stories—ranging from moviessportsmusic and celebrity scoops to the serious journalism behind #MeToo, the Panama Papers and the opioid crisis—is all about helping people stay informed about the news that matters to them. 

Source: Search


Newsmakers: Creating a “digital butler” with News UK

Mike Migliore

Not all news industry executives have a background like Mike Migliore. Before making his way into the business, he earned a master’s degree in musicology, focusing on 19th century Italian opera. These days, he uses his creative mind for a different purpose. As a senior business strategist at News UK, Mike’s work is at the nexus of digital transformation, product strategies and artificial intelligence. 

Over the past year and a half, this has translated into collaborative projects like JAMES, an AI “digital butler” that individualizes the way news is shared with News UK readers, on publications including The Times and The Sunday Times. Created in collaboration with Twipe and with the support of the Google News Initiative, JAMES has had impressive results, with 70% of readers clicking on suggested stories and a 49% decrease in subscription cancellations during the experiment. We spoke with Mike about his work and thoughts on the importance of integrating new technologies into the news industry.

How do you explain your job at a dinner party?

As Head of Customer Value, I use data to make sure that customers use our products, that they stay with us and ultimately spend more money with us over time. Metaphorically, I’m equal parts lecturer, traffic cop, orchestral conductor and cheerleader.

How did you start working in the news industry? 

I came to the U.K. to do my master’s in music at King’s College London, and I sort of fell into marketing. I got a job at News UK in 2013 and have been there ever since, working in a variety of digital marketing and commercial roles with our publications including The Times and The Sunday Times. Culturally, the company is full of smart, passionate people who are always looking for a new challenge or a new way of doing things, and I thrive in that sort of environment. 

How has technology changed the way readers interact with news?

Consumers expect brands to put them first, to put their needs and feedback before revenue. There is also a question of what counts as “news” these days. Consumers expect their own perception of news to fit into their lives, to elevate them, to keep them, in the case of The Times and The Sunday Times, not just informed but well informed. 

In many respects, our edition-based approach to publishing and our use of the newly launched JAMES are responses to these changes. We believe in considering deeply the impact of events, politics and current affairs on individuals’ lives, and our journalism reflects that. We publish the most considered stories four times a day instead of constantly updating minute by minute. In essence, we believe it’s better to be right rather than “right now.” That’s what led to the creation of JAMES. Using AI, we are able to anticipate readers’ needs and not only deliver the curated content that they want, but also determine when and how they want it. I look at the broader market and don’t see many other companies successfully doing that, so that’s something we are really proud of as an organization.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the past year? 

In the case of JAMES, that organizations the market might label as “legacy publishers” can collaborate and innovate. We have provided a better customer experience and created the opportunity for higher revenue without compromising on price or product, and what’s more, we did this collaboratively and used a novel technology. It’s a lesson that runs contrary to a lot of conventional wisdom that legacy publishers are declining and that we are not thinking outside the box. In our case, neither of those things is true. 

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken recently? 

Besides getting News aligned behind artificial intelligence? Ha—eating a ghost chili! In all seriousness, I think the greatest thing about working for a company like The Times, and, more broadly, a News Corp company, is the company’s ability to embrace innovation and change so effectively. But launching a new technology brings with it high expectations, so there was definitely a level of risk in doing that. I’m glad to see it all paid off.

How The Baltimore Sun is growing digital subscriptions

Editor’s note: Throughout the month of August, the GNI Subscriptions Lab hosted workshops with 10 U.S. and Canadian news publishers, including The Baltimore Sun, to explore new opportunities for digital subscriptions growth. Last week, we co-published a report with the Local Media Association (LMA) and FTI Consulting to share what we’ve learned.  

Just today, as I write this post, we at The Baltimore Sun launched a new tactic: Some non-subscribers will be prominently asked to enroll in a free newsletter before reading their first free article of the month. The test was born out of the GNI Subscriptions Lab. Here’s how we used data and collaboration to come up with the idea.

Our digital subscriptions team at Tribune Publishing is always seeking new ideas to boost subscriber relationships and digital revenue to help fund our journalism. In this pursuit, we have attended conferences, participated in webinars and devoured research papers on the topic. So, when the Google News Initiative, FTI Consulting and LMA started the GNI Subscriptions Lab earlier this year to help news publishers accelerate their approaches to digital subscriptions, we eagerly joined with one of our storied brands, The Baltimore Sun. 

Job one in the Lab was measuring the health of our digital subscriptions business. We deployed our data analysts to collect 27 months of observations across 300 variables that contribute to our subscriptions model. After compiling our insights across the entire Lab, we had over 80,000 data points to compare and contrast with our fellow participants. 

This is where the power of the Lab first emerged. We focused on 10 of the most critical performance metrics for a digital subscriptions business, such as visits per unique reader, engagement with the paywall (Meter Stop Rate) and effectiveness in monetizing subscribers (Average Revenue Per Unit). We saw which news organizations had best-in-class metrics, and heard directly from those participants about how they achieved success. 

For example, The Baltimore Sun had one of the highest paywall conversion rates in the group. My team shared how our promotional calendar for subscriptions is thoughtfully constructed; we focus our best offers at the end of each month, which is when most readers finish their monthly free-article allotments and hit our paywall. Conversely, comparing our metrics to our fellow publishers, we saw that we should work to increase the number of times each unique reader visits our site. So, we are now prioritizing desktop alerts as an immediate, peer-recommended method for growing visitor frequency. 

With this aerial view of where we’ve been and, more importantly, where we need to go next, The Baltimore Sun is focused on projects to improve soft spots in our subscriptions metrics.

We selected email capture as our first bulls-eye. We have email addresses for about two percent of our unique users, which is below the Lab's target level of five percent. After brainstorming with the group about how we could improve that metric, we developed our first experiment: a free newsletter offer for some readers before their first metered article. Our goal is to generate more email-sourced subscribers and drive greater newsletter engagement through this approach. 

In the coming weeks and months, we look forward to further collaboration among expert organizers and supportive peer-participants in the Subscriptions Lab. As our expectations rise and new challenges emerge, we must seek (or create!) cooperative environments like this to learn and thrive together as an industry.

Backing Asia Pacific’s emerging newsroom leaders

Across Asia Pacific, a new generation of journalists is telling the region’s stories and tackling the challenges facing the news industry. The Google News Initiative (GNI) Newsroom Leadership Program, a collaboration between GNI and the Columbia School of Journalism, was established to develop the business and product expertise of these emerging newsroom leaders. Today we’re announcing the 2019-2020 Program fellows and sharing more about their projects.  


The projects they chose are as diverse as their backgrounds. These journalists hail from Pakistan to Japan, India to Australia. They’ll be looking at how digital tools can make great storytelling even better, championing socially-conscious reporting and investigating new approaches to political polling. And they’ll explore new membership and revenue models for news, helping fund the future of journalism in their countries. 


As they work on their projects, the fellows will take part in seminars and develop professional networks across the region. To find out more, we spoke to Raju Narisetti, the Director of the Knight-Bagehot Fellowship in Economics and Business Journalism and Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia, who helped develop the program. 


What are the skills you think emerging newsroom leaders need to be successful today?

The most critical skill is an understanding of the business of journalism and the forces shaping the industry. They also need to hone the ability to think of content as a product, and the willingness to let data inform their decisions. These “hard” skills need to be coupled with “power skills” like developing diverse teams, leading with purpose and managing relentless change.


How do you think the GNI Newsroom Leadership Program addresses this?

The fellows will experience a mix of theory and practice in seminars during their in-residence weeks at Columbia School of Journalism.  Practitioners as well as academics will deliver the sessions, which are specifically designed for the media industry. Topics will range from revenue streams and media sustainability to building video, audience and analytics frameworks and teams for the next decade. They’ll also get hands-on workshops on developing leadership and “managing up.”


What words of advice do you have for the fellows as they prepare to go through the program?

Be really present during the in-residency classroom weeks, because your day job will still be waiting for you. Think of the other participants as a learning and sharing opportunity that can become a professional support network during the year and beyond. And have strong beliefs (about your project or the news business), but hold them loosely, so you can embrace new ideas and solutions.


Caption: Our 2019-2020 Fellows, as pictured from left to right, starting from the top left: Gyanu Adhikari, Phillip O’Sullivan, Akane Imamura, Betina Hughes, Danielle Cronin, Marium Chaudhry, Nitya Thirumalai, Hyuntaek Lee, Ragamalika Karthikeyan, Yusuf Wijanarko, Anisa Menur Maulani, and Lynn D’Cruz.

When journalists collaborate instead of compete

At ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative news organization, collaboration is part of our DNA. Since we first started publishing 11 years ago, we've partnered with news organizations all over the U.S., from the Des Moines Register to the New York Times, and from NPR to CBS News. Those collaborations have taken many forms. In the past few years, we’ve taken on very large scale partnerships, working with many newsrooms at once, sharing a data set that hundreds of reporters could use to do their jobs.

We’ve learned that it's not easy to wrangle hundreds of journalists on a single project—but we’ve developed some strategies and tools to help. With the support of the Google News Initiative, we're publishing a guidebook to collaborative data journalism, including big crowdsourced projects like the ones we've done. The guide provides tips for establishing collaboratives, managing workflows and tracking your work. Our collaborative reporting guidebook is available on our website. Our database tool will be available in the fall.

For the past few years, we’ve been working with the Google News Initiative on making large-scale collaborations possible. In 2016 and 2018, we worked together on the Electionland project, which monitored voting problems in real time. (Google provided financial support for the 2016 Electionland.) That project allowed ProPublica and our partners to tell stories about long lines, voter check-in issues, voter ID and much more, reporting on these problems as they arose so that authorities could have the opportunity to address them. 

Starting in 2017, Google and ProPublica have worked together on building tools for Documenting Hate, which tracks hate crimes and bias incidents. We've reported on how hate manifests itself in communities big and small, from schools and universities to superstores and supermarkets. We are now taking what we’ve learned and the tools we’ve built and giving them away so that other newsrooms can launch and run their own collaborations around data. 

When we start a large collaboration, local and national newsrooms sign up to get access to the data we’ve collected, which they can use to report their own stories. That way, we can make the most out of a big set of data, and help reporters all over the country tell stories. We’ve also built software to help organize, verify and share tips; we’ll be making that available for other newsrooms to use later this fall. You can sign up using our form to learn when our collaborative reporting tool is ready.

While collaboration in journalism has grown considerably in the last few years, we know that some newsrooms are still hesitant due to concerns about competing with other media organizations and getting exclusive access to sources. But through our experience with these projects, we know that journalists can do great reporting through collaborations. This guide demonstrates that by working together, newsrooms can benefit by reaching larger audiences, finding new stories and making the most out of large data sets. We hope it will be helpful and will inspire more journalists to work together.

Protecting private browsing in Chrome

Chrome’s Incognito Mode is based on the principle that you should have the choice to browse the web privately. At the end of July, Chrome will remedy a loophole that has allowed sites to detect people who are browsing in Incognito Mode. This will affect some publishers who have used the loophole to deter metered paywall circumvention, so we’d like to explain the background and context of the change.

Private browsing principles

People choose to browse the web privately for many reasons. Some wish to protect their privacy on shared or borrowed devices, or to exclude certain activities from their browsing histories. In situations such as political oppression or domestic abuse, people may have important safety reasons for concealing their web activity and their use of private browsing features.

We want you to be able to access the web privately, with the assurance that your choice to do so is private as well. These principles are consistent with emerging web standards for private browsing modes

Closing the FileSystem API loophole

Today, some sites use an unintended loophole to detect when people are browsing in Incognito Mode. Chrome’s FileSystem API is disabled in Incognito Mode to avoid leaving traces of activity on someone’s device. Sites can check for the availability of the FileSystem API and, if they receive an error message, determine that a private session is occurring and give the user a different experience.  

With the release of Chrome 76 scheduled for July 30, the behavior of the FileSystem API will be modified to remedy this method of Incognito Mode detection. Chrome will likewise work to remedy any other current or future means of Incognito Mode detection.

Publisher impact and strategies

The change will affect sites that use the FileSystem API to intercept Incognito Mode sessions and require people to log in or switch to normal browsing mode, on the assumption that these individuals are attempting to circumvent metered paywalls. 

Unlike hard paywalls or registration walls, which require people to log in to view any content, meters offer a number of free articles before you must log in. This model is inherently porous, as it relies on a site’s ability to track the number of free articles someone has viewed, typically using cookies. Private browsing modes are one of several tactics people use to manage their cookies and thereby "reset" the meter count.

Sites that wish to deter meter circumvention have options such as reducing the number of free articles someone can view before logging in, requiring free registration to view any content, or hardening their paywalls. Other sites offer more generous meters as a way to develop affinity among potential subscribers, recognizing some people will always look for workarounds.  We suggest publishers monitor the effect of the FileSystem API change before taking reactive measures since any impact on user behavior may be different than expected and any change in meter strategy will impact all users, not just those using Incognito Mode.

Our News teams support sites with meter strategies and recognize the goal of reducing meter circumvention, however any approach based on private browsing detection undermines the principles of Incognito Mode. We remain open to exploring solutions that are consistent with user trust and private browsing principles.


Source: Google Chrome