Scroll.com is a news subscription service for 5 USD/mo. that supports news organizations. Subscribers get an advertisement free and tracking-reduced reading experience on participating news publishers’ websites. Scroll is currently in closed beta, and I’ve had an early look at how the service works.
Scroll will, of course, take an undisclosed cut and share the remainder of your subscription fee among participating publishers. Publisher shares are based on subscriber engagement with publisher websites. The service is currently only open for large general-news publishers focused on the United States.
The subscription service means to replace the online advertisement revenue news organizations currently rely on to do their work. Its goal is to give subscribers more benefits and broader access to more news from multiple publishers with a single subscription.
Every participating website displays a white fixed-toolbar (meaning it stays atop of content as you scroll) from Scroll at the bottom of each page. The toolbar includes features your web browser probably already has; including the option to bookmark and hearing a machine text-to-speech reading of the current article.
The white bar is intended to make it clear that you’re logged in to and benefitting from the Scroll.com service. However, it’s just as annoying as all those cookie-notices and other unwanted pests that the Scroll subscription ironically helps you to avoid. The Scroll.com toolbar can’t be dismissed either and will remain at the bottom of the page until you head over to and logout from Scroll.com.
Speaking of toolbars and notices: Scroll.com isn’t present in any of the data-sharing disclosure and consent dialogs that pop-up when you visit any of the current partner websites. You don’t have any say in whether a specific publisher and Scroll.com compare their notes on you. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) generally requires websites to get your explicit consent before sharing data with another business such as Scroll.
Publishers share information about your visit with Scroll whether you’re a subscriber or not. They need to do this to check-in with Scroll to figure out if you’re a subscriber or not. Scroll doesn’t return the favor, though. They don’t share persistent identifiers with publishers that can be used to identify you between browsers or devices.
I’d personally prefer having to click ‘Login with Scroll’ on each participating website instead of having to rely on third-party cookies. This is “less magical” but better for privacy and transparency. It wouldn’t require more than a single click from the user for publishers they want to support with their Scroll subscription. Privacy minded users have been blocking third-party cookies for years already. Lately, web browsers like Safari and Firefox also block them by default.
You must enable third-party cookies in your browser for Scroll to do its thing. This is a technology favorite of online advertisement who use it to track your movement across their partner websites, much as Scroll does. Scroll.com needs to collect information about which publishers articles you read to work out publisher revenue shares.
You can review the collected information by going to Scroll.com. There you’ll see a list of all articles you’ve read complete with links that take you back to the same position in the article where you last left off. This can be a neat feature for when you start reading an article on your phone and want to finish it on another device later.
The list of articles in your account is permanent and you can’t currently delete items from it. The best Scroll offers is to hide any embarrassing articles so it wouldn’t be visible in your reading list. Scroll.com CEO Tony Haile ensured me in an email exchange that they’re working on better privacy controls. Including user-configurable automatic and default data deletion and possibly the option to delete/dissociate articles from your account.
Scroll is only partnering with big publishers so it’s not a solution for small publishers looking to get their tiny share of the pie. Leaving a market for alternatives like Flattr or even more controversial options like Brave.
Scroll is working with Mozilla and is expected to be part of Mozilla Firefox’s upcoming paid premium service offerings. However, I believe Scroll needs to attract more varied and international publishers. Firefox’s 270 million worldwide users will expect a much broader catalog of publishers.