From February 10, the familiar home of the viral word puzzler Wordle changed. If you visit the powerlanguage.co.uk/wordle link now, you will be automatically redirected to the new owner’s site. In and of itself, this comes as no surprise seeing as Wordle was recently acquired from the original developer, Josh Wardle, for an “undisclosed price in the low seven figures” by the purchaser, The New York Times. Perhaps what will come as some surprise to many players of the game is that it now comes complete with ad-trackers. But don’t sweat it, you can stop it with a little Wordle hacking.
This acquisition of Wordle by The New York Times has, quite naturally, sparked an even amount of interest and concern about the future of the addictive and advert-less free online game. For its part, the newspaper is famed for the quality of its games: Spelling Bee (how many words can you make from seven letters), Letter Boxed (creating words from letters around a square), Sudoku and, of course, crosswords. The thing that links all of them, apart from their addictiveness, is that they sit behind a paywall. You have to pay to play if you want unlimited access. It’s not exactly expensive, at just $5 a month or $40 for the year. That’s still more than nothing, which Wordle has always cost and currently still does.
A clue to how The New York Times may look to monetize the puzzler was picked up by a Gizmodo reporter who spotted some ad-trackers when playing online. This came as no surprise to me, not least as I had observed the same thing through my use of web browser extensions such as Ghostery and Privacy Badger as you can see below.
Wordle trackers blocked by the EFF Privacy Badger extension
Trackers in Wordle as found by the Ghostery browser extension
Ad-trackers are not unusual on the web today, let’s face it, and it would be not very honest of me were I not to point out that Forbes.com also has multiple ad trackers. The truth is that you accept these and live with the way the web works in 2022, or you use blockers of one sort or another to try and control things as best you can. However, Wordle used to be free of these particular ad-tracking concerns, and that was part of its attraction; it wasn’t hinting at being monetized in any way. The irony of such a non-monetized product changing hands for north of a million dollars does not escape me. Of course, not all the Wordle trackers are advertising oriented; some are analytical, for example. None of which necessarily means you’ll be seeing adverts served up with your daily word puzzle, it should be said.
I reached out to The New York Times and a spokesperson told me that “Wordle, which is now hosted on The Times’s domain, has the same privacy rules as other Times properties, including our other games. While The Times tracks less than what is standard for the industry, we are constantly looking to improve privacy across our digital properties. We’re also working on an array of solutions to better industry practices.”
In the meantime, you are probably wondering if you have any options other than either accepting trackers or not playing Wordle? Of course you do, for now. You can use the aforementioned advert and tracker blockers for your web browser, with other apps available for your smartphone. In addition, the Safari browser for iOS users will prevent trackers from profiling you, so playing using that is another option. These won’t help you if, at some point, Wordle does go behind the paywall, though. However, a hack lets you avoid the tracking and play for free for the foreseeable future, and I mentioned it earlier: download the code.
Hold on, I hear you saying, that’s OK for those folk who did so before the redirection to The New York Times site on February 10. Actually, it’s OK for those who didn’t as well because you can still perform the same bit of Wordle hacking now. At least for the time being, until such a time as the code itself gets locked down. This is down to Wordle still running on the client-side at the time of writing. This simple hack means you can play Wordle on your iPhone, and there’s no internet connection required. Indeed, to be absolutely sure that nobody is tracking you online, you can disconnect from both internet and mobile data and still play Wordle.
While I’m talking about the iPhone here because that’s what I have, it’s possible to pull the same trick for Android devices or desktop web browsing. It’s a little convoluted but straightforward enough for anyone to do. First, go to the Wordle game at The New York Times using the Safari browser on your iPhone. Once there, hit ‘share’ and look for the options link at the top of the screen that appears. Click on this and then make sure you tick the ‘Web Archive’ selection before the ‘Save to Files’ action. Once you’ve saved it to a folder of your choice, you will have a copy of all needed to play Wordle offline, locally, on your device.
Unfortunately, it’s not just a matter of clicking on that saved file to start playing, but don’t worry it’s another easy process and takes a few seconds of your time. Open the iOS Files app, press and hold the saved Wordle file and pick Share from the popup menu. Now opt to open with Microsoft Edge (which you’ll need to download first if you haven’t already) and Robert is your mother’s brother. Is there a downside to this, other than installing Edge on your iPhone? Why, of course, there is. Your existing wins and streaks will disappear if playing offline. Whether that’s a sacrifice worth making for total privacy, only you alone can decide.
Oh, and if you want to know how to do the same on an Android smartphone or by way of a desktop browser, you can find step-by-step instructions at c|net. And talking of further links, you can read The New York Times privacy FAQ here.