Online advertising can be a divisive thing. On the one hand, ads support the free content model of the internet, with advertising subsidizing many of our favorite websites. On the other hand, badly designed or intrusive ads can be disruptive, to say the least, and tracking cookies and similar advertising trackers raise many privacy concerns. This is where ad blockers and anti-tracking software come in, allowing users to block irritating ads, save bandwidth, opt out of intrusive marketing systems and, in extreme scenarios, block malicious ads that seek to infect computers. Check out our favorite ad blocking extensions and apps to take control of your browsing experience.
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.
AdBlock Plus (ABP) is among the most popular ad blockers, with versions available for Firefox, Chrome, 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, which may irk some users, though this 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 (no relation to AdBlock Plus) is the other major ad blocker extension of note, available for users of Chrome, Opera 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.
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.
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 is the latest addition to Mozilla's family of browsers. This one's a privacy-oriented Android version 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 ad, analytics, content and social trackers with easy toggles, turn on a "stealth" mode, and set a default search engine.
Brave Browser (Desktop, Android, iOS) builds ad-blocking and privacy features into its desktop and mobile versions to better secure users and delivering an all-in-one package that doesn't depend on extensions to increase security and privacy. Brave includes ad-blocking and anti-tracking settings, features HTTPS Everywhere built-in, and options for selective blocking and white-listing. Interestingly, Brave has a system of "Brave Payments", user-supported micro-payments that are then doled out to partner publishers whose ads the app blocks, allowing you to surf ad-free without feeling like you're depriving an online publisher of revenue.
Another app that makes good use of iOS's content-blocking features is 1Blocker, a powerful and highly configurable content blocker that comes preloaded with a wide array of ad blocking settings, while also providing users with the freedom to create their own content blocking rules. Users can easily block unsightly ads and social widgets with a flick of a switch, and users can also whitelist specific pages if they want to let content through. Previously a paid app, 1Blocker is now free to try, with free users able to block one kind of content (ads, social widgets, etc.); a premium upgrade provides unlocking unlimited blocking.