Take Control of Your Browsing
Online advertising can be a divisive thing. On the one hand, ads support the free content model of the internet, subsidizing many of our favorite websites. But badly designed or intrusive pop-up ads can be disruptive and tracking cookies and similar advertising trackers raise many privacy concerns. The best ad blockers and anti-tracking software let you block irritating ads, save bandwidth, and opt out of intrusive marketing systems. In extreme scenarios, they can even block malicious ads that seek to infect your devices.
NOTE: Ad blocking takes away revenue from publications like the one you're reading and risk the ability of media to provide otherwise free content.
MORE: Best Android Browsers
AdBlock Plus (Desktop, Android, iOS)
AdBlock Plus (ABP) is among the most popular ad blockers, with versions available for Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera. ABP features a quick setup, loading preset filter lists that allow users to quickly block most ads, as well as the option to filter malware and social media buttons. Savvy users can chose additional block lists as well as set custom filters or whitelist their favorite sites to keep their ad revenue in the black. AdBlock Plus allows what it calls "non-intrusive advertising" through filters; that may irk some users, though this feature can be disabled in settings. On Android, the AdBlock Browser provides a Firefox-based browser that blocks incoming advertising, while on iOS, the AdBlock Plus app integrates with the content blocker system to seamlessly block advertising on Safari with minimal setup.
AdBlock (Chrome, Firefox, Safari)
AdBlock (no relation to AdBlock Plus) is the other best ad blocker extension of note, available for users of Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. AdBlock uses a series of filter lists to automatically block ad content coming from known ad servers and providers. Users can stick with the default block lists, subscribe to additional ones, or even create their own, as well as whitelist their favorite websites. As one of the most downloaded Chrome and Safari extensions, AdBlock has the trust of many users worldwide.
AdGuard (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS: Price dependant on OS)
Uses looking for a more robust experience can try out the subscription-based AdGuard, which provides desktop and mobile options to reduce the ads you see when surfing online. AdGuard on Windows and Mac covers popular browsers, with highly configurable options for ads, content, and tracker blocking, as well as a parental controls module for restricting adult content. AdGuard for Android is a no-root ad-blocker that blocks advertising on apps and games, though you’ll have to install it from AdGuard’s site instead of through Google Play. AdGuard for iOS works with Safari to effectively filter ads on the default browser.
AdBlocker Ultimate (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera)
AdBlocker Ultimate is a free browser-based ad blocker that makes a big deal about being beholden to no advertising companies, strictly letting no ads through. It also doesn't have any corporate sponsorships that let through whitelisted website ads. In addition, AdBlocker Ultimate also blocks known malware, adware, and tracking domains. The add-on is available for popular browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera.
uBlock Origin (Chrome, Firefox, Safari)
Ublock Origin (Chrome, Firefox, Safari) is a browser-based ad blocker that focuses on simple, efficient blocking with a low resource overhead. The extension comes loaded with a number of filter lists for known advertising and malware sources, with extra filter lists available and the option to read and create your own custom filters from hosts files.
AdLock (Windows, $22 per year; Android, $11 per year)
AdLock (Windows, Chrome, Android) avoids the browser-based route, and instead opting to run as a separate program to be able to block not only browser-based ads, but also advertising in other programs like Skype or games. The app runs in the background, using filters to block ads, popups, and autoplaying videos, speeding up loading times and applying Safe Browsing features to automatically block sites that are known to be unsafe. The mobile version, for obvious reasons, is unavailable on the Google Play Store, so you'll need to sideload the app if you want to get AdLock into your Android device.
Android users with a rooted device can check out AdAway, a free and open source ad-blocker that works on the host's file level, so that when an app or webpage makes a request to a particular ad provider, it instead goes to a blank IP address (127.0.0.1). That saves your bandwidth and keeps you from being spammed by advertising. AdAway lets you use hosts files from a variety of sources, or one of your making, with options to blacklist or whitelist particular addresses and add your own redirects. You will need to allow installing third party apps (or download AdAway through the F-Droid app), as AdAway isn't available in the Google Play store.
Firefox Focus (Android, iOS)
Firefox Focus (Android, iOS) is another addition to Mozilla's family of browsers. This one's a privacy-oriented version of Firefox that bakes in ad-blocking and anti-tracking into a light and functional package. Firefox Focus blocks ads and speeds up browsing, while also working in privacy-friendly features like automatic history and cookie clearing. Users can selectively block ads, analytics, content and social trackers with easy toggles, turn on a "stealth" mode, and set a default search engine.
Opera (Desktop, Android, iOS)
The Opera browser bakes in ad-blocking features into the browser without the need for an extra add-on, while also offering privacy-friendly tools such as an unlimited, built-in VPN service, incognito mode, fraud and malware warnings for suspicious links and pages, and more. In addition, you can further customize Opera's capabilities with a wide array of extensions. Mobile users need not fret, as the Android version comes with just about everything the desktop version has, and a mobile-oriented version built for touch screen interfaces is available as Opera Touch (Android, iOS).
1Blocker X (iOS: $4.99)
1Blocker was one of the first really good ad blockers on iOS when Apple opened up that functionality on iPhones and iPads, and 1Blocker X is an overhaul optimized for Safari. The app is designed to make browsing faster and more secure by blocking ads, popups, trackers and other online cruft. Rather than blocking content of a downloaded page, 1Blocker works with Safari's content blocker API to tell the browser what to block in advance, saving time and resources. 1Blocker X features more than 115,000 blocker rules, custom regional adblocking settings, and easy-to-use custom rules settings.
Disconnect (Desktop, iOS)
From straight-up ad blockers, we turn to other tools that can disable or log Web cookies, tracking pixels, and whatever else online advertisers use to track and target your online habits. Disconnect is a powerful browser add-on for Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Safari that allows users to see advertising, analytics, and social media tracking cookies. It offers the option to disable them globally or selectively. This useful tool includes whitelists, blacklists, tracking visualizations and more. Disconnect also offers a VPN service, Disconnect Privacy Pro to further encrypt your iOS network connection.
Ghostery (Desktop, Android, iOS)
Another cookie and tracking blocker, Ghostery is available for Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and Safari. Like previous programs, Ghostery helps users spot and block advertising and social media trackers. Where Ghostery stands out is its large database and its ability to link you to the privacy policies and opt-out options of many tracking and ad companies the tool spots. It has since made the leap to mobile with the Ghostery Privacy Browser (Android, iOS) which brings the same tracker-spotting functionality to mobile devices.
Privacy Badger (Chrome, Firefox, Opera)
The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Privacy Badger extension (Chrome, Firefox, Opera) was born from the EFF's concerns about the business models of some privacy tools and ad blockers. Privacy Badger functions similarly to extensions like AdBlock Plus (on which it was based) and Ghostery, observing the various tracking tools that advertisers and other third parties might use to track your online activities and selectively blocking them from executing, with built in learning algorithms that adapt to the sites you visit as well as any new tracking tools discovered. While not explicitly an ad blocker, Privacy Badger does also block some advertising, depending on how aggressively the ads track you across websites.
Tor Browser (Desktop, Android)
The Tor network helps anonymize your internet activity by bouncing the data you send and receive through a distributed anonymous network of routers to foil a common online surveillance technique called traffic analysis, which can reveal the sites you visit or who you're communicating with. The Tor Browser (desktop) is an all-in-one package that includes everything you need to surf the net through the Tor network in an easy-to-install portable package. The package includes a modified version of Firefox with privacy aids such as NoScript baked in, and an automatic setup aid that makes it easy to connect to and create new Tor circuits. Tor Browser has officially launched on Android, replacing the previous OrBot + OrFox combination recommended for browsing Tor on Android.
Onion Browser (iOS: Free)
iOS users aren’t left out when it comes to browsing the Tor anonymizer network, with the Onion Browser among the more popular options on Apple’s mobile OS. Previously a premium app, Onion Browser has since moved to a donation model, opening up access to everyone who wants to download the app, without compromising security or features. The usual caveats apply: Browsing through Tor will slow down the web experience, and some features, like video streams and video files won’t work in order to preserve anonymity.