Cookies crumbling in race to monetise content

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Cookies crumbling in race to monetise content

Race is on for IT solution.

Media and content companies may need to move beyond tracking cookies in order to succeed with metered paywalls, according to content distribution firm Akamai.

News Ltd is planning to change its paywall strategy, according to industry website Mumbrella, moving to a metered model that relies on tracking browser cookies.

The Australian already uses cookie tracking to stop readers exploiting its policy of unlocking stories for visitors coming from Google.

But cookie tracking can be problematic on metered paywalls, as users can delete cookie files to fool article counters. Some web browsers reject third-party cookies entirely.

“Media companies need to monetise content but it has to be differentiating for a consumer,” said Pedro Santos, global vice president of Akamai’s mobile business.

“I see media companies, assuming the (paywall) strategy is a success, moving to a model where it’s not just tied into the cookies of a user on a device or a desktop, but doing it around specific device ID. Then it’s a little more reliable and easier for them to monitor over time,” Santos said.

Cookies are the obvious choice for tracking website users, said Sophos technology head Paul Ducklin, because that’s what they were designed for.

“But I don't think anyone envisaged how extensively cookies would be used — not just to tell that you're a currently-logged-in user, but to remember that you're the same visitor who bought a left-handed glove in green leather at a 15 percent discount in October 1997.”

The use of cookies by the online advertising industry is well established. Ducklin said while there had been some backlash in Europe — where there are strict laws that compel organisations to notify users — he noted that the web login probably wouldn't exist today without the use of cookies.

Cookies are likely to again garner attention now that hundreds of media companies in the US and UK are moving to metered paywalls and Australian organisations are following suit.

Are there alternatives?

Two companies, one based in Austria and the other in the US, have promised alternative means for media companies seeking to lock down their content.

New York-based Tinypass offers a metered paywall function as a plugin for WordPress or Drupal platforms, and then gives the option of client-side cookie tracking or server-side tracking.

Vienna-based Novosense, which was acquired by paywall software provider Piano Media last year, is less specific, but claims to offer an "innovative algorithm" that provides identification of internet users without the use of cookies or any other client storage mechanism.

Novosense claims its technology solution is anonymous, respecting privacy, but Ducklin said he would expect identification and anonymity to be mutually exclusive.

“The company's goal is expressly to be able to "identify more audience for a longer time” — so much for privacy," he said.

Santos said the more sophisticated content companies are using location-based targeting.

“One of the promises with mobile is that if I know the location of the user, the hyper location, I can target content to that particular user. We’re already starting to see merchants start to talk about that.”

Santos said media companies were also seeking to localise their content for specific regions.

“Were starting to see need and demand to do that, with companies wanting to geo-fence users.”

Novosense owner Piano Media had not responded to iTnews' request for comment at the time of publication.

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