AFR obfuscation strategy

In my post Why the subscription model is hard to lose, I wrote about media companies often having two different brands – one subscription-driven and one advertising-driven – riding off the same content in order to maximise overall revenue without cannibalising existing income streams. In this post I want to look at the specific example of the Australian Financial Review and their cunning obfuscation strategy!

In my post I suggested that the AFR‘s advertising-driven / free brands were the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. This, from a corporate perspective, is true, however, from the brand level, the AFR also pumps content through to other AFR brands such as technology magazine, MIS. This content is somewhat protected through an “obfuscation” technology that makes it unreadable if it is selected to copy. Part of a hard-core copyright protection strategy to bring maximum traffic to the site for viewing content and advertising, perhaps?



Sarah Stokley from LifeHacker had this to say:

This is bizarre – often people like to cut and paste to read later, or to email to a friend to tell them about the article, or to quote in their blog. Enter the Deobfusticator – a website created by Lindsay Evans which lets you enter an AFR URL and get a page of readable text in return. Thanks for helping us keep the Fin somewhat user friendly, Lindsay. :)

However, when I checked the comments on Sarah’s post, I noticed that Sean Carmody found the Deobfusticator no longer functioning. I checked, and also found it on the blink. Is the Deobfusticator broken or is Fairfax onto it and changing code.

Is the AFR trialling a free advertising-driven model with the technologists who read MIS? When will the next deobfuscator arise? Is obfuscation necessary?


2 Responses

  1. Thanks Sean. Interesting with the TV guides… and I tend to agree about obfuscation being unnecessary. Not enough plagiarists for all the inconvenience it causes genuine users, although I would like to see the stats that drove Fairfax to make this decision and investment in the technology. Hopefully there was some cost-benefit analysis, rather than just – “Oh, I’ve got a cool new way to stop people copying our free content!” Or, “Well, if it’s so inconvenient, maybe you should subscribe to the AFR” – because I don’t think that will wash with many people or for very long in this massive content, content-aggregating environment.

  2. I’m sure that the AFR have changed the way their obfuscation works. I saw a similar phenomenon a while back when I used a free app to download TV guides to load onto my set-top box. The app pulled the data from the Channel 9 website and there was a continual arms race: the app would work for a while and then Channel 9 would change their obfuscation, breaking the app, then a new version of the app would be released, etc. In the end I got sick of it all and subscribed to IceTV! I imagine if anyone makes a serious attempt to keep Deobfuscator up to date a similar thing would happen. Mind you, I’m really not convinced of the value of locking this material down (in either case).

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