A “paywall” is a system that prevents Internet users from accessing webpage content without a paid subscription. There are both “hard” and “soft” paywalls in use. “Hard” paywalls allow minimal to no access to content without subscription, while “soft” paywalls allow more flexibility in what users can view without subscribing, such as selective free content and/or a limited number of articles per month, or the sampling of several pages of a book or paragraphs of an article.
Okay, enough with the boring stuff.
Lots of times websites charge for content. Be it premium news subscriptions, access to special content from bloggers, quicker access to video clips or a sneak peak at information, “before the general public.” Some sites are exclusively for members and some offer free content but then charge for the additional access.
With my current job being political in nature, I’m expected to keep on top of news and current events, so when I can, I visit a number of news websites, including one called Politico.com
Some time ago though, I started getting pop-up ads when I visited the site. It wasn’t for any specific premium content though, but rather when I read any story. Was the site now charging for everything? Was it no longer a free site? There were still advertisements on the site, but was it no longer free?
Well, sort of.
It looked like politico was still letting me read the news, but only for a while. Apparently I now only got to read seven articles before they started charging me. Man, what a drag. I have no issue at all with a site charging for content. People can decide if the content is worth reading and either lay out the cash or take a walk. In my case, there was nothing from Politico that I thought was so news-breaking that it was worth the cost, so I decided to “talk a walk” and I got my news from other sources.
I didn’t think much of it until I was traveling out of state a few months later and opened up the website. I noticed I could view as much content as I wanted, far greater than seven articles. So I did some digging and found this.
It seemed that Politico wasn’t charging for accessing the site… rather they were charging certain places for the content. Websites are able to track your IP address to see where you’re connecting from. The router or hardline internet connection will tell the server what county, state and even city that you’re in.
And because I had been traveling, in a different state, I wasn’t being counted as being in Iowa.
So this got me thinking, and I did some more digging about Virtual Private Networks. A VPN allows you to connect to proxy servers that help hide your IP address. That’s an extremely general definition of it, because I don’t know enough of the ins and outs to explain it in detail. Long story short, there are ways to mask or “hide” your IP address. This allows you privacy so that a website won’t know where you’re access it from.
It’s 100% legal and I know of many people who use them when accessing the internet on a daily basis, regardless of what sites they’re visiting. If privacy is important to you and you don’t believe a website or service provider needs to know the full details of your internet life, then a VPN might be for you.
Here’s a list of different Virtual Private Networks that can help hide your IP address. Some VPN’s do charge and some offer limited free services. The one I use is www.HideMyAss.com. Funny name, but it works.
The process is simple. Just visit the site, entered in the original website you wanted to visit, and go from there.
So I tested it out while in Iowa. In this example, instead of going straight to politico.com I went to HideMyAss.com and entered politico.com.
It worked just as if I had visited the site as normal. The site look changes just slightly, with a yellow bar and promotional ad on top. I tested it out thoroughly, clicked all over the website and never encountered any type of paywall or cutoff to access.
This only works for location based paywalls of course, (you can’t just sneak past, if the website is requiring paid subscriptions.) But if the website or business is producing good content, you should be willing to pay for it.
As well, sometimes it’s not about money but about access. When I wanted to watch the Crossfit Games last year, I wasn’t able to watch the live feed because it was blacked out in the United States. So I used a VPN, and the system couldn’t tell if I was in the U.S., Brazil, China or somewhere in between. So while in that case I would have happily paid for the service, I didn’t even have the option. But by using a proxy, I was able to watch the event.
The ability to mask your IP address can be an important tool, both to protect your privacy, as well as finding information on the web you would not otherwise be able to access.