Saturday, December 04, 2021

Confession and Pro Tip: The (Pay)Wall (Often) Comes Tumbling Down

Yes, I'm a hypocrite. And I guess letting one moral holding slip leads to overall decay.

That is, I used to hold, and still generally believe, that there's an implicit contract between web content providers and readers such that if one uses an ad blocker, one is not entitled to the content. Entertaining the ads is the "price" of "free" content.

Nonetheless, I use an ad blocker. It used to be uBlock Origin, but now it's the built in ad/tracker blocking in the Vivaldi browser.

Why? Well, because I want to see the fucking content, that's why. I don't have a problem with ads in principle, but these days a lot of sites stack them so thick, and display them using such resource-intensive scripts, that if I don't block the ads I end up not seeing the page at all, or having a single page slow my whole computer to a crawl.

Morally, that's not an excuse. There's a price on the content, and I'm taking that content without paying. Mea culpa.

And now I find myself getting more serious about avoiding paywalls, which is a different specimen of the same moral failing.

If a publication puts up a paywall, it's because they're selling the content, not giving it away. Avoiding the paywall is pretty much the moral equivalent of shoplifting.

Of course, a lot of sites make it very easy -- delete cookies and refresh the page and you're in, that kind of thing. It's like a store that keeps a stack of expensive electronics near the front door, with no security scanners at the door, no personnel checking receipts, and a big sign that says "$99.99 ... unless you just pick it up and walk out with it, in which case we'll do nothing."

Other sites don't make it as easy, or at least are working on making it harder. I used to just give up.

Now -- this is the pro tip part of the post -- I use 12ft Ladder. It exploits Google crawler cache results to display full versions of paywalled content.

It doesn't work 100% of the time (the New York Times, National Review, and Foreign Policy seem immune to it, for example), but it does work on a lot of content at a lot of sites.

I guess I'm a bad, bad man.

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