Ads aren’t just annoying, they can seriously wreak havoc on your privacy and security.
But how do you find the best ad blocker for your unique situation? In this guide, we will examine different ad blocker options – from browser extensions to dedicated apps and hardware solutions.
But first, the reasons to block online ads:
Privacy – From a privacy perspective, online ads are horrible. Ads are usually served through third-party domains (advertising networks) and contain sophisticated tracking. This tracking software embedded in ads is used to build an intimate user profile to include your interests, browsing activity, location, age, family members, friends, and more. Based on your user profile, you’ll be served targeted ads through the ad networks on the websites you visit. Ads are basically digital surveillance cameras that constantly abuse your privacy.
Security – The growth of malicious advertising (malvertising) is truly alarming because your device can be infected by simply loading a page with ads – no clicks required! Ads can be used to serve malicious payloads that exploit security bugs and may even take over your device in exchange for payment (ransomware). Malvertising has even affected major websites such as the BBC and New York Times.
Performance – Ads are also problematic for performance in terms of bandwidth usage and CPU drain, especially with mobile devices. A study by Enders Analysis found that ads can consume up to 79% of mobile bandwidth! Using a versatile and lightweight ad blocker can tremendously improve page load speeds.
We’ll examine different ad blocker options in detail below.
Browser ad block
One of the most popular ad blocker options is to use free browser extensions – but choose carefully!
Many free ad-blocking browser extensions are also making money through data collection and advertisements:
Adblock Plus doesn’t block all ads, but rather operates what it calls an “acceptable ads” program, where ads that meet its criteria for things like placement, size, and distinction, are “whitelisted”—that is, if the company displaying the ads is willing to split the revenue gained by whitelisting with Adblock Plus.
Ghostery, another popular ad blocker, operates under a different model. As a user, you don’t see ads and aren’t tracked by pesky data trackers. The company, however, makes money by collecting anonymized data on what those trackers pick up. It repackages that data and resells it to publishers, websites, and other companies it says can use the information to help improve the speed, privacy, and performance of their sites.
In other words, many of these “ad blockers” are not good choices for privacy-conscious users – the recurring problem with “free” products.
While I do not recommend using Adblock Plus or Ghostery, due to the privacy issues, there are still a few browser-based ad blockers, filters, and script blockers you may want to consider:
- uBlock Origin – uBlock Origin is an efficient and light-weight “general-purpose blocker” that filters ads and tracking. It is free, open source, and available for Firefox, Safari, Edge, and Chromium browsers. uBlock Origin is also very customizable and can be used with different filter lists.
- Privacy Possum – Instead of straight blocking some tracking elements, Privacy Possum corrupts the tracking data, rendering it useless. It's also harder to defend against when they (the trackers) inherently trust that data by default and they cant practically determine it in other ways. Tracking companies, because they are so profitable, have a growing influence on the web and the technologies surrounding it. So aside from how Privacy Badger blocks trackers, this extension hit's em where it hurts, the ole money bags by corrupting data you send.
- NoScript – NoScript is an extension for advanced users that blocks scripts by default, including ad services. This will take lots of customization and time as NoScript breaks many websites by default.
Drawbacks of ad blocker extensions:
- Ads may still be getting loaded and consuming your bandwidth and resources, even if they are not being shown.
- Advertising networks may still be collecting your data and profiling you, even if the ads are not being displayed on the sites you visit.
- Some ad blocker extensions still collect your data and/or serve you “approved” ads.
Device ad block
There are also various dedicated ad blocking apps you can use for different devices.
Generally, we at AdGuard don’t want to rely just on the capabilities provided by the browsers. That’s why our flagship products are standalone programs, which allows blocking ads and trackers system-wide.
There are other ad blocking apps available, but AdGuard seems to be one of the best options I’ve tested for this category of ad blockers.
Drawback: A dedicated ad blocker app will consume resources.
There are other hardware and DNS/Router options for blocking ads that we will discuss further below.
DNS/Router ad block
Benefits to using DNS resolvers on your router like Adguard, OpenDNS etc... is the content filters which they provide that can be used for parental control and family filters, malware, exploit and ad blocking. Blocking ads across your entire home network has some unique benefits:
- You won’t need to set up ad blockers on every device.
- Devices that don’t natively support ad blockers will still be protected (Smart TVs, gaming consoles, etc.).
The effectiveness of various DNS ad blockers can vary.
DNS Protocols (DNSCrypt, DNS-over-TLS etc...)
Either set up your own server with these optimized lists for blocking ads or connect to an existing server and use the list above if you can.
DNS Resolvers (Adguard, OpenDNS etc...)
DNS resolvers optimized for content filtering that you can use on your router. This setup page (Adguard) gives you the instructions (encryption available.)
Diversion is also a great option for Asus routers running Merlin firmware.
Some router firmware options may support ad-blocking, such as with DD-WRT and Tomato firmware.
NoTrack is a network-wide DNS server which blocks Tracking websites from creating cookies or sending tracking pixels. It works sinkholing known tracking and advertising sites to a web server running on the NoTrack device inside your network. It is completely free and open source and can be run on a Raspberry Pi or Linux based distros.
Pi-hole is a fast and efficient network-wide ad blocker that will function as a DNS server for your network. It is completely free and open source and can be run on a Raspberry Pi or Linux based distros.
Drawbacks with DNS/Router ad blocker
- Can be slow at times
- The big drawback here is that it does not offer any privacy since the traffic goes unencrypted to your ISP/DNS resolver, unless you encrypt your traffic using DNSCrypt on your router.
Hardware ad block
Another excellent option is a newly-developed device called an eBlocker. This is the product of a small team of privacy/tech enthusiasts based in Hamburg, Germany.
eBlocker is a simple plug-and-play device that integrates with your router to block ads, stop trackers, hide your IP address, and protect all your devices without separate software installations. It provides a number of powerful privacy and security solutions directly out of the box.
The main drawback is the price, ranging from $99 to $169. However, it does offer many powerful features and benefits in addition to blocking ads. The eBlocker can connect to a VPN or the Tor network for added online anonymity. It can also cloak your devices to protect you against browser fingerprinting. Lastly, it has a family filter feature to block adult content, which may be useful if you have children.
See their website for more information.
Drawbacks of eBlocker:
- Only works on your home network
What is the best ad blocker?
The best ad blocker for you will depend on your unique situation and needs. In other words, there’s no one-size-fits-all that will be perfect for everyone.
Many people like browser-based ad blockers, especially since they are usually free. While browser ad blocker extensions may be popular, they also come with a few noteworthy drawbacks:
- Ads may still be consuming bandwidth and resources (even if they don’t show).
- You may still be getting tracked by third-party advertising networks.
If you’re connecting lots of devices to your home network, one of the network-wide ad blocking solutions would be good to consider.
A dedicated ad blocking application on your operating system, such as AdGuard, may also be a good idea – but it will also consume resources.
You can always combine multiple types of ad blocking methods to get the best possible protection.
Ad blocker conclusion
Using a good ad blocker is basic digital self defense, especially considering how invasive and dangerous online ads are becoming.
In addition to the privacy and security aspects, effectively blocking ads will also:
- Help websites load faster
- Consume less bandwidth, which can make a big difference for mobile devices
- Improve your overall online experience, without the clutter and distraction of obnoxious ads
The obvious drawbacks with some of these solutions are the cost and/or setup requirements. But considering the risks and annoyance of ads, using a good ad blocker whenever you’re online is definitely worth it.