Bypass paywalls with Anti-Paywall for Firefox and Chrome - gHacks Tech News

Bypass paywalls with Anti-Paywall for Firefox and Chrome

Anti-Paywall is a new browser extension for Firefox and Chrome designed to bypass website paywalls automatically when pages of supported sites are visited.

Paywall systems are designed to keep anyone but subscribers from accessing certain content on the Internet. Especially newspaper sites use the feature to limit access to content, and to entice visitors to subscribe so that they may access content during the subscription period.

Non-subscribers run into issues with these sites however. If an article is linked on a social media site or elsewhere, there is usually no indication whether it is behind a paywall or not (unless the author added the information).

It is frustrating to follow a link only to be greeted by a "access denied" message and a big subscription box.

Anti-Paywall

anti-paywall

The Anti-Paywall extension for Firefox and Chrome uses various methods to bypass paywalls for supported sites.  The list of sites includes Forbes, Independent UK, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, New York Times, The Australian, Seattle Times or The Wall Street Journal right now. You find the full list of sites that it supports on the project's GitHub page.

The extension works automatically without you having to do anything. If you check the source code, you will notice that it uses various means, most notable changes to the user agent to mask as Google Bot, cookies or referer, to bypass the paywall.

What it does depends largely on the site in question. I tested the extension extensively on several of the supported sites, and it did work as advertised. I could access all articles and was not exposed to the paywall at all.

Extensions like Anti-Paywall need constant updating as sites make modifications to the systems they use regularly. Some options, like masquerading as Google Bot, worked for years however, and there does not seem to be an end in sight on that.

Closing Words

Anti-Paywall is a handy browser extension for Chrome and Firefox to access blocked content on many newspaper sites. It does away with the "opening a link and finding out that you cannot access the content of the page" issue that sites with paywalls cause regularly.

Now You: How do you handle sites with paywalls?

Summary
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Software Name
Anti-Paywall
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Comments

  1. John C. said on December 11, 2017 at 10:40 am
    Reply

    Although it may be frustrating to run into a paywall, it’s the right of the website to have them. Going around paywalls is theft and is simply wrong. Of course, I know that everybody is going to oppose me on this for whatever reason. However, if we’re ever going to get newspapers to stop using printed media, they have to be able to deliver their content digitally and still make a profit somehow.

    1. Sam said on December 11, 2017 at 10:56 am
      Reply

      Paywall & ad are such nuisance. I personally rather let sites run mining so that I can enjoy a pleasant web and contribute to the creators at the same time. I hope mining or something similar will be the future.

      That said, I always disable ads on sites that I like, including this one.

      1. Ross Presser said on December 11, 2017 at 11:14 am
        Reply

        Sam, do you mean you *enable* ads on sites you like? that you *disable* your ad-blocker?

      2. Sam said on December 11, 2017 at 11:35 am
        Reply

        Ross, you caught me :)
        Yes I meant disable adblocker, i.e. enable ads.

      3. John Fenderson said on December 11, 2017 at 7:30 pm
        Reply

        There is no way that I’m going to allow a site to run any scripting that they aren’t hosting themselves. It doesn’t matter if it’s for ads or mining — it’s just far too dangerous.

        So, for me, paying real money is the only option available if I want to financially support the site.

    2. Ross Presser said on December 11, 2017 at 11:14 am
      Reply

      I think calling it theft is overstating the case. The paywall was constructed to keep you out; if it’s badly constructed, are you responsible? If the paywall is designed to let googlebot in and doesn’t check strongly enough that only googlebot really is getting in, does that make you a criminal?

      I agree that defeating a paywall is wrong, to an extent. I don’t think it’s actionable though, and the word “theft” brings to mind legal threats. I don’t think that’s a justified word.

      1. Derek said on December 11, 2017 at 7:26 pm
        Reply

        A door lock is constructed to keep unauthorized people out; if a lock is poorly constructed on a house, are you responsible for breaking in? Does that make you a criminal?

      2. John Fenderson said on December 11, 2017 at 7:28 pm
        Reply

        If someone sets up physical security clearly intended to keep you out, but does it badly enough that you can bypass it without a problem, are you trespassing if you actually do so?

      3. Clairvaux said on December 11, 2017 at 9:53 pm
        Reply

        I’m not sure what the intention was here, but of course you’re committing a crime if you break into a stranger’s house because the lock offered little resistance. I’m appalled someone can even ask the question, if that was the meaning of those comments. To think otherwise is to be very ignorant of the law, and deeply morally flawed.

        Now the reason some people would still feel justified defeating a paywall has nothing to do with the door lock metaphor. It’s the same argument as with software or music piracy : I’m not stealing anything because I’m just copying bits, which does not reduce the number of bits possessed by the owner ; and I wouldn’t have subscribed anyway, even if the paywall (the “lock”) was unbreakable.

        That’s my case. I have discovered, purely by chance, a technical way to defeat a newspaper’s paywall. I don’t use it very often, in fact I read those paywalled articles much less often than I would if I had bought a subscription.

        In fact, I used to buy this newspaper off newstands for many, many years. Now it has got so bad that even the price of a single paper copy I consider a waste of money. Actually, I bought an online subscription to it once, and when I chose not to renew, they were so devious in the way they tried to prevent me from leaving and keep drawing on my credit card, that I sweared never to subscribe again.

        So I wouldn’t go as far as saying that what I’m doing is morally flawless, but I certainly don’t feel guilty for a second for having a peek behind their paywall once in a while. Those supposedly “high-value” articles are much, much less interesting than hundreds of free articles I read legally all over the Net.

        Also, their reporting is dishonest, and it’s a (supposedly) very influential paper, so any harm I may be doing is completely dwarfed by the much bigger harm they are inflicting on society. Not to mention they are subsidized by the government — i.e., me.

      4. John Fenderson said on December 11, 2017 at 10:03 pm
        Reply

        @Clairvaux

        “It’s the same argument as with software or music piracy”

        That was why I went with the lock metaphor rather than theft. The bottom line is that using resources owned by another without their permission is unambiguously wrong.

        “So I wouldn’t go as far as saying that what I’m doing is morally flawless”

        I should hope not, since what you’re doing is actively immoral no matter how you look at it. I see you making two basic arguments trying to shade this — that they aren’t out anything (which is irrelevant), and that their product sucks (which is nonsensical — if it sucked, why do you want it?).

        But in the end, you are using someone else’s resources without their permission. It’s hard for me to see how that’s justifiable. The more respectable way to approach this is what I see many pirates do: acknowledge that yes, they’re taking what they shouldn’t, and they don’t care. No justifications offered.

      5. Clairvaux said on December 11, 2017 at 10:28 pm
        Reply

        Actually, John, I’m making the case that it would be morally right to destroy that newspaper. That’s what I’m saying. So what we’re talking about is rather remote from this. Unfortunately.

        What I’m doing is completely different from breaking into a person’s private house, presumably to harm someone, steal something or even just have a peek.

        Also, they tried to steal actual money from me in the past, so me having a peek at a few articles I would never have bought anyway is not even me getting even. It’s tantamount to reading the newspaper over a fellow commuter’s shoulder instead of buying it. If the other fellow gives you a nasty stare, you just stop reading. But you won’t be buying the paper anyway.

        It’s disingenuous to pass moral judgement without considering the scale of actions. Farting in public may be not nice, but it’s in a completely different category than pumping propane into a building and blowing it up. Also, the only reason you know I farted is because I told you. This does not take a cent out of that miserable rag’s revenues. So give me a break, will you ?

      6. syrup said on December 12, 2017 at 12:26 am
        Reply

        There’s hardly a concept with a bigger grey area than ‘permission to use a site’s resources’ – the whole argument over the ethics of ad-blocking is based on that ambiguity. As for paywalls, for quite some months I wasn’t really aware a news site I regularly visit had a paywall at all – they use cookies to limit ‘guest’ access to 30 free articles per month, but I clear cookies routinely, so am able to exceed the limit – previously without knowing, and now knowingly.

        It’s certainly not an issue that’s best thought about in terms of sweeping generalisations and moral certitudes.

      7. jmjsquared said on December 12, 2017 at 2:59 pm
        Reply

        Stunning illogic. It is theft, stealing, depredation, etc.; choose one or all.

        “If it’s badly constructed?”, you ask. Your passwords, your home’s front-door lock, the pocket in which you keep your wallet, each is not as secure as it could be. Therefore, it is okay for hackers, burglars, pickpockets to steal your property, right?

        “To an extent”, you also say! You are one of those completely amoral persons whose only measure of right-versus wrong is how likely it is that you’ll be caught. I truly hope you never have, or raise, children.

      8. Martin English said on December 17, 2017 at 11:09 am
        Reply

        A typical example is http://smh.com.au – a click baity version of a once great newspaper.

        You get 15 (or 25) free articles a month. Unless you visit in incognito mode, then there’s no limit

        Am I stealing article 16 (or 26) ?

      9. Clairvaux said on December 17, 2017 at 3:20 pm
        Reply

        @ Martin English

        “A click baity version of a once great newspaper.”

        For another example of this, see the London Telegraph. Their former online version was a great news and opinion site. Then they simultaneously did a complete editorial overhaul, and paywalled most of the contents. The dumbing down is spectacular. What was once one of the most high-brow information sites of the English-speaking world, witty, well-informed, thorough, well-written, with multiple brilliant personalities, has become a bland advertorial site, with ultra-short articles and subjects you would think are plucked from the Daily Mail.

        As a matter of fact, I now read the Daily Mail more often that the Telegraph, and I think it’s better, too. Yes, there’s a lot of trash in it, but when you sort it out, you get more mileage out of it. And it’s free. No paywall there.

        Also, the Telegraph online subscription is expensive. It’s not cheaper than what a physical subscription used to cost. Not obviously so, anyway.

        @ All morally posturing do-gooders

        Get lost, the bunch of you.

      10. Jody Thornton said on December 17, 2017 at 6:26 pm
        Reply

        @Clairvaux:
        @ All morally posturing do-gooders
        Get lost, the bunch of you.
        ——————————————————————————-
        Sheesh! For someone who holds conservative values that you think liberals are attacking – you’d think you’d be more for business protecting their assets.

        You have a very angry, mean streak to you. Wonder what made you that way.
        :(

      11. Clairvaux said on December 17, 2017 at 7:00 pm
        Reply

        @ Jody Thornton

        So, you’re willing to come out as a morally posturing do-gooder, is that it ?

        Yes, I’m angry at people like you, and very rightfully so. Anger is a good thing when it’s directed at the right people. And no, it has nothing to do with being mean. You should take some English lessons.

      12. jmjsquared said on December 17, 2017 at 7:45 pm
        Reply

        @Clairvaux – Your self-righteously granting yourself unseemly, and unmanly, license to be personally offensive and insulting in expressing your so-called anger**, contradicts your holier-than-thou refusal to acknowledge @Jody Thornton’s right to express her ‘outrage’.

        As to proper use of the English language, perhaps it is well to begin by considering your use of the word “sweared”. At best, and with my being very generous, it is non-standard; especially for so erudite a (former) subscriber to The Telegraph, as you.

        **[ASIDE: Is it, really, your budget is so constrained that, in your desperate need-to-know, you have reduced yourself to filchery?]

        Notwithstanding your self-aggrandizing polemics and whingeing (‘…but, even after I cancelled, they continued to charge my caaard….’), your accessing, by any means and for any reason, something to which you are not entitled, makes you a thief. Petty. But a thief, nonetheless.

    3. Tom Hawack said on December 11, 2017 at 9:13 pm
      Reply

      I understand your opinion, but it has to be paywall verses advertisement, not both. Big sites make a hell of money with ads (whatever the ad-blockers which are far from concerning a majority of users), so having to pay moreover is not honest. In this perspective the argument of ethics is reversed.

      1. knutschkugel said on December 11, 2017 at 11:49 pm
        Reply

        The reason for putting up a paywall is to keep unauthorized people out. Who is authorized ? The one who pays to legally get access to an offered non free service or product.

        I don’t see anything wrong with setting up a paywall, people need to get paid to make a living. In my opinion it simply has to do with respecting the decision made by the individual or the company.

        So if someone wants acces to something behind the paywall, pay. Or stay out if you don’t want to pay. Shouldn’t be too hard to understand if you have at least a little respect left for others.

    4. Yulie said on December 12, 2017 at 4:44 am
      Reply

      I think it’s not theft but piracy. They’re not stealing content but just consume them without authorization. Some people above make excuses like “if your lock is weak, then it’s your problem!”, “your content sucks so I don’t want to pay, I’ll just pirate your content!”.

      At this point, it’s all about ethics. If you enjoyed their contents, then subscribe or pay them somehow.

      1. epinoa said on December 12, 2017 at 10:35 am
        Reply

        Piracy means that you are stealing content and selling it at a profit. That is not happening. What is happening is akin to watching a football match by going to an apartment that overlooks the stadium. Never been illegal I’m afraid.

      2. Jody Thornton said on December 16, 2017 at 2:13 am
        Reply

        Right. After all, newspapers were able to make money as “papers”. They should be able to monetize their content offerings as premium content.

    5. epinoa said on December 12, 2017 at 10:31 am
      Reply

      What is being stolen?

  2. Ross Presser said on December 11, 2017 at 11:16 am
    Reply

    I don’t think the googlebot user-agent is going to last much longer. Sites that really want to paywall are going to tell googlebot it can only retrieve the first part of a story. That will be enough to attract viewers.

    1. ams said on December 12, 2017 at 5:51 am
      Reply

      Site owner can (should) recognize that googlebot hails from only certain netranges, and only pasthru requests where both useragent=googlebot and IPaddress={known list of subnets}

      ping, pong. Up the ante. Googlebot maintainers have learned that the bot must spot-check (visit via proxy) to guard against the shenanigans of shady site owners who would attempt to serve SEO-baited landing pages to the bot (vs porn, or malware or ??? to normal visitors)

      “Sites that really want to paywall are going to tell googlebot it can only retrieve the first part of a story.” Naw, as is, by accessing the content googlebot knows (recognizes) which site ORIGINALLY published an article, vs the hundreds of sites who follow-on by scraping/plagarizing the article… and can properly rank the ORIGINAL source within search results.

  3. chesstauren said on December 11, 2017 at 11:28 am
    Reply

    Most paywalls allow Google spiders to browse their pages, so all you need to do is change the referrer to https://www.google.com and you’re done.

  4. Clairvaux said on December 11, 2017 at 12:32 pm
    Reply

    No Script has allowed me to do this in some cases. With an added twist.

  5. jnp said on December 11, 2017 at 5:15 pm
    Reply

    This extension, running FF ESR, appeared to block on-line banking for me. When I installed the extension I was blocked, when I disabled, I was permitted to access my online banking.

    1. Jojo said on December 11, 2017 at 10:04 pm
      Reply

      Yes, same for me! They need a white list or looks like we will have to disable the addon before doing any online banking. Thankfully, I generally only visit my bank online once a month.

      But also got blocked for this post here until I disabled the addon!
      ==============
      Sorry, you have been blocked
      You are unable to access ghacks.net
      ==============

    2. chesscanoe said on December 11, 2017 at 11:27 pm
      Reply

      Whenever I enter or receive potentially private information, I use incognito mode in Chrome, which disables all extensions. If you read the fine print in most extensions, they can do lots of stuff you may not like if you think about it. Just a thought….

      1. John said on December 12, 2017 at 1:02 am
        Reply

        Honestly, you either trust an extension or don’t. If you don’t trust an extension in private browsing mode, then you shouldn’t be using it in the first place…

        Unless you’re talking about extensions that can interfere with online banking and other sensitive services, because of things they have to change in favor of privacy?

        Even in that case, I would still leave uBlock Origin enabled in incognito mode.

    3. TheAuthor said on December 13, 2017 at 1:12 pm
      Reply

      Your bank is probably fingerprinting your browser extensions “as is”; Do you have the same problem if you add any other extension?

      Which browser/bank are we talking about? :)

  6. Donnie said on December 11, 2017 at 5:43 pm
    Reply

    I would not host an extension such as this, at least not without expecting trouble. Look, paywalls are somewhat easy to bypass. Usually all you need to do is set the browser to run in private mode and not to save cookies; something that you should already be doing anyway to protect privacy. The fact that this lets you around most paywalls is just a convenient side affect.

    But advertising and hosting an extension whose purpose is to bypass paywalls is sure to invite unwanted attention.

  7. John Fenderson said on December 11, 2017 at 7:25 pm
    Reply

    Personally, I prefer to respect paywalls. If I hit a paywall on a site that isn’t important to me, I just move on. If a paywalled site is actually important to me, I’ve probably already subscribed.

  8. Leland said on December 11, 2017 at 10:26 pm
    Reply

    My quick test in Firefox ran into some major issues. For one I could not properly access my Gmail accounts or Facebook. Once it was disabled everything is back to normal. Might be worth watching for future use or just temporary use but I can’t leave it on full time because of these issues.

  9. RPWheeler said on December 11, 2017 at 10:31 pm
    Reply

    The only subscription service I use at present is my Internet provider, and I’m not going to change it. Sometimes I run into site with paywall, like with Financial Times. If there is a free registration option for limited content view, I register. I’m not going to view more than 3 articles per month anyway. If it is simpler to use other site or to circumvent paywall with some trick (like NoScript or UBlock), I go for it.

    But I don’t have any big interest in sites with paywalls anyway, and wish them to get out of business.

    1. Jody Thornton said on December 16, 2017 at 2:09 am
      Reply

      Only one question. Since they used to monetize their business by selling papers, how do you expect them to monetize now? Don’t wish for a world where Facebook is your news. You should want experienced journalism. They need to make a living at it, in order to keep doing it.

  10. chad said on December 12, 2017 at 2:24 am
    Reply

    What is all this ‘holier than thou’ commentary? nearly everyone will read paywalled content if they have access to an extension like this that allows access to material normally behind a paywall. In Chrome, one can easily read paywalled content by using an incognito window. Most computer users aren’t savvy enough to aviod paywalls by using something like this extension, which Google itself may pull from the Chrome Extension Store before too long. Big publications aren’t going to go to extraordinary efforts to block everyone attempting to read paywalled content for free, in that someone will always find a way to get around any paywalls put in place.BTW, another excellent article by Martin Brinkmann!!

    1. ams said on December 12, 2017 at 6:04 am
      Reply

      Thankfully, (according to moz beancounters)(rolleyes) only 0.02 percent of users bother to install a single browser extension… so those of us who do aren’t enough of a thorn for the paywallers to notice, eh?

  11. ams said on December 12, 2017 at 5:58 am
    Reply

    If we set aside the “spoofing googlebot user-agent”… shame on me (?) but instead of feeling like I am guilty of “stealing”, I feel like I am proactively defending myself against attempted discrimination when spoofing user-agents. Mobile users get a free ride, but sitting at a desktop PC I’m expected to pay? Omygawd, reminds me of the days when I would visit a site and be met with “sorry, this site isn’t compatible with Internet Exploder” (sic)

    To me, “they” are clearly trying to kill the open web. Yunz mobileusers “install the app” (and can ride for free b/c unproxied app is laden with sponsor advertising) and ta hell with anyone visiting the site via “web browser”.

    1. Jody Thornton said on December 16, 2017 at 1:57 am
      Reply

      Yeppers! The concept of web sites to most millennials is archaic. Everything is apps – because after all – everything is mobile. Companies using the Internet find less and less of their traffic coming from there. And let’s face it; as bricks and mortar and newspapers become less profitable, you need to generate revenue somehow.

  12. cybrd3mon said on December 12, 2017 at 6:23 pm
    Reply

    I just hit Esc before the paywall loads.

  13. boris said on December 13, 2017 at 3:19 pm
    Reply

    With this extension I can not login to any website. I wish they would put on/off switch button, so i could use it on paywall websites and turn it off immediately after.

  14. Alex said on January 25, 2018 at 4:45 am
    Reply

    I disagree, hiding information like news behind a paywall only hurts those who can’t afford to read the news. Sites that hide news behind paywalls that demand you pay money to access news about what’s going on in the world only does more harm than good. Things that are of importance to the public should be available o the public and not hidden and used as a means of extortion. While i do agree that yes, ultimately companies that publish news online are large corporations throttling and restricting access to information while demanding payment to be able to read about what’s going on in the world is an absolutely sinister way to go about doing it. No one should have that much power over the flow of information.

  15. The one said on February 9, 2018 at 1:34 am
    Reply

    Adblocking and paywall work arounds … Soooo epic! Really looking forward to the changes taking place now.. back to more free exchanges of information, less online garbage, and less corporate company influence on the web.

  16. Mark said on February 10, 2018 at 2:16 am
    Reply

    I don’t see why I should pay these mediocre media outlets a dime for reading their daily garbage. There is only one thing worse than reading mediocre news and comments: paying for it. If daily telegraph wants to charge me for their ridiculous news and biased opinions, I just turn to another free-of-access media. At least, I can read something that I would not like, before deciding of wasting my money on it.
    I also find gratifying when websites like Wikipedia allow me free entry to read their important information. It is so gratifying that I voluntary donate money to Wiki Foundation every year. There are more sites to which I donate every year. And the sites are open to anybody. That is the most important thing for me.

  17. Bill Henderson said on March 11, 2018 at 6:47 am
    Reply

    I just completed a clean reinstall of Windows 10 version 1709. I synced up my Chrome and was not able to open any Anti Paywall links. Nothing from Anti Paywall on my Chrome extension came through?? Any idea of what is going on? I was using this for a good month and it worked wonderfully

  18. Eldad said on August 27, 2018 at 11:58 am
    Reply

    Hello,
    Thank you for Anti Paywall.
    2 problems: 1. could not install on Chrome, “Page not found”
    2. Installed on FF (52), does not work with http://www.haaretz.com and http://www.haaretz.co.il. Get immediately message: “You are using a browser that is trying to circumvent paying”.
    Any suggestions? any fix?
    Thanks for add-on and help!

  19. Eldad said on August 27, 2018 at 3:04 pm
    Reply

    P.S.
    Commented yesterday about not functioning on http://www.haaretz.com and http://www.haaretz.co.il .
    Forgot to mention: using WinXP-PRO-SP3.
    I get to the desired page, but just a few lines of the article with suggestion to subscribe…
    Eldad

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