| Monday May 30th 2016

HOWTO: Disable Copy-and-Paste Hijacking Web Sites

Over the last few months I’ve noticed an annoying trend on various web sites, generally major newspaper and magazine sites, but also certain blogs. What happens is that when you select text from these web pages, the site uses JavaScript to report what you’ve copied to an analytics server and append an attribution URL to the text. tynt copy/pasteSo, for example, if I were using this “service” here on Daring Fireball, and you selected the first sentence of this article, copied it, then switched to another app to paste the text you just copied, instead of pasting just the sentence you selected and intended to copy, you’d instead get:

Bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA, may be among the world’s most vilified chemicals. The compound, used in manufacturing polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins, is found in plastic goggles, face shields, and helmets; baby bottles; protective coatings inside metal food containers; and composites and sealants used in dentistry.

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/05/31/100531fa_fact_groopman#ixzz0pjMY3wBg

i.e., three blank lines followed by “Read more:” then the URL from which the text was copied, then an identifying hash code used for tracking purposes.

Among the sites where I’ve seen this in use are TechCrunch (source) and The New Yorker (source). The JavaScript tomfoolery happens with most text copied from the site — whether you’re copying the entire article, a paragraph, or a sentence.

For fragments of a sentence, the behavior changes between different sites. On the New Yorker web site, copying up to seven words from an article works normally — no attribution URL is appended. Copy eight or more words, however, and you get the attribution appendage. On TechCrunch, the attribution appendage again only kicks in for selections of eight or more words. However, on TechCrunch, if the selection consists of only one to three words, when you invoke the Copy command (either by keyboard shortcut or the menu item), you get a popover with search results for the selected text that appears over the contents of the article itself. Madness.

All of this nonsense — the attribution appended to copied text, the inline search results popovers — is from a company named Tynt, which bills itself as “The copy/paste company.”

It is a bunch of user-hostile SEO bullshit.

Everyone knows how copy and paste works. You select text. You copy. When you paste, what you get is exactly what you selected. The core product of the “copy/paste company” is a service that breaks copy and paste.

The pitch from Tynt to publishers is that their clipboard jiggery-pokery allows publishers to track where text copied from their website is being used, on the assumption that whoever is pasting the text is leaving the Tynt-inserted attribution URL, with its gibberish-looking tracking ID. This is, I believe, a dubious assumption. Who, when they paste such text and find this “Read more:” attribution line appended, doesn’t just delete it (and wonder how it got there)?

It certainly isn’t being appended to help the person copying and pasting the text. The person copying the text knows where it comes from.

If you look at Tynt’s list of client sites, most of them are newspapers and print publishers. It’s no surprise that some of these publications would agree to such a terrible idea — they have no respect for their websites or for their readers. It is surprising, to me at least, that a magazine of the caliber of The New Yorker would agree to it, and it’s even more surprising that a blog like TechCrunch would go for it.

Now, the nature of my work writing Daring Fireball involves copying and pasting many snippets of text from web sites every day. So this Tynt stuff probably annoys me more (or at least more frequently) than most people. But TechCrunch is itself a weblog that quotes passages from other websites frequently. They’ve instituted a feature that they themselves surely find annoying.

I presume Tynt has plans to eventually insert ads into copied text, but as far as I’ve seen, they aren’t doing so yet. I have no idea what TechCrunch or The New Yorker think they’re getting out of this service. They’re burning some measure of goodwill from their readers in exchange for URL tracking analytics from Tynt identifiers that most people, I bet, delete as soon as they see them after pasting. And even if it does work well — if, in fact, a significant number of people leave the tracking URLs from Tynt in place after they paste — the idea of websites tracking what users copy from their pages is creepy.

Whatever their justification for using Tynt is, I’ll bet it involves repeated use of the phrase “biz dev”. All they’re really doing is annoying their readers. Their websites are theirs, but our clipboards are ours. Tynt is intrusive, obnoxious, and disrespectful. I can’t believe some websites need to be told this.

How to Block Tynt on a PC or Mac
If you use Chrome, you can install this Tynt-blocking extension, which does just what it says on the tin. However, you wind up getting a dialog box each time you encounter a different site using Tynt. (Although only once for each site.)

What I’ve chosen to do is edit my /etc/hosts file to block access system-wide to the tcr.tynt.com server. This is the server from which the Tynt JavaScript code is served to all its “partners.”

Making changes to the hosts file requires administrator privileges, for obvious reasons. If you’re not completely comfortable making changes to an essential Unix configuration file, don’t.

Here’s the line I added to the end of my hosts file: tcr.tynt.com
After saving the hosts file, Tynt’s clipboard-altering nonsense is disabled on all Tynt-using websites I’ve encountered, no matter which browser I use.

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Reader Feedback

12 Responses to “HOWTO: Disable Copy-and-Paste Hijacking Web Sites”

  1. Christiane Marshall says:

    Hi, I’m curious. You say you copy quotes from websites everyday. Do you attribute–give credit–to the author and website you copy from? As a writer, I get annoyed with all of the people on the web who think that what I write belongs to them. They grab entire articles without giving me credit. They give themselves a byline. Then Google penalizes for duplicate content. I have to go after the thieves and ask for the material to be removed, and explain that they may create a bookmark of about 50 words, with a link back to my article.

    I’m honestly confused as to why you find the Tynt thing annoying. If you aren’t attributing the work of others, shame on you. If you are, what is wrong with doing a little extra work without complaining in exchange for using a snippet another person worked to create?

    Your article doesn’t mention copyright at all. Are you aware of the issues around plagiarism and copyright? Maybe you should fix your article to include a disclaimer if you aren’t into something dishonest.


  2. Hanish says:

    How can protecting one’s copyrighted material be an SEO bullshit?

    When you copy someone’s article. it is ethical behavior to provide with the source and a link back. If you are copying more than 50 words, you should get the permission of the author to do so, this is the norm.

    Please do not encourage plagiarism in the name of freedom of expression. Your freedom ends where other’s copyrights begin!

  3. T. Cowan says:

    How is this hostile to users? Users are allowed free access to most online information; they are not permitted to take it and reuse it at will. Just because written material is open for everyone to access, and it’s easy to copy, doesn’t mean it’s not protected by copyright laws.

    Content thieves make online writers compete with their stolen works in search rankings. This takes money out of writers’ pockets if they rely on page views or ad clicks for revenue. I’m for anything that will hinder (or at least annoy) these criminals.

  4. Alina says:

    I agree with the others here. It sounds like your advocating making it easier for content thieves to steal. That code at the bottom isn’t SEO, it’s one more step to make it more difficult for thieves. You can justify yourself any way you want. Your post is pretty clear.

    • Alina,

      For the second time, the linkback to the original link is not the SEO, the alphanumeric tag at the end (e.g., #ixzz0pjMY3wBg) is the SEO.

      And for the record, I’m not justifying anything. If someone wants to steal the content they just delete the automatically generated linkback/seo tag and plagiarize the crap out of it. The focus of this blog is regarding the unauthorized addition of the linkback/seo… of which a “fix” is presented. Users may choose to use it or not.

      Cliff notes: Tynt may or may not be using the received data for profit without my consent. The actual copyright issue is out of this blog’s purview…

      …but since this has been an interesting discussion, I will keep approving the comments from the suite101 people. Keep ’em coming.

  5. wctaiwan says:

    Also, often I’m copying and pasting content for my own use, and when I post things online, I attribute in my own way (e.g. citing the source at the top with hyperlinked source name or saying via ___ at the end). The automatically added comments are a pain.

  6. mazgalica says:

    Hello imi place siteul tau sa vrei faci link echange cu blogul meu?

  7. Will says:

    I copy and paste other writers work quite often. I am the Grand Master.

  8. Will says:

    The comment left by the person using william.d.prescott@gmail.com is a person pretending to be me using an old email. I’m very sorry he did this. if you could, please delete this and his message.

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