Even well before the Internet became popular, we were all looking for ways to avoid advertisements and commercials whenever we could. The commercial break on TV was the moment for a quick bathroom break, to get some snacks, or to take the dog for a 5-minute walk. Of course, since then the advertising world has found new ways to target consumers.
Nowadays, TV commercials are broadcast every twenty minutes, instead of once per hour. Moreover, if you manage to avoid TV commercials, you are bound to see the commercial or advertisement at some other point anyway, such as in the supermarket, on a billboard, when taking public transport, or on the internet. The most annoying thing about the internet is that you can’t ignore pop-ups, adware, and website banners simply by walking the dog.
Looking for an effective solution? Then it is time to look at an adblocker. In this article, we will explain what an adblocker is and why you should use one. We will also advise you as to which adblockers are the best.
What Is an Adblocker?
An adblocker is a computer program that blocks online advertisements. Following the Internet boom, online advertising became more and more attractive to companies and quickly surpassed TV advertising. First of all, advertising online is much cheaper. Furthermore, marketers can acquire a lot of information through online advertising: your browsing history, internet use, searches, surfing behavior, etc. This has led to more personalized advertising, which can be a blessing, but also raises important and fundamental questions about your privacy. Especially when big data is involved.
And then came adblockers. There is always to sides to every story. Adblockers work on almost all devices; desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. This means that users are able to block advertisements on web pages as well as on their smartphones. This is, of course, a huge blow to the world of online advertising. With the rise of Adblockers, advertisers, suddenly, saw their returns on investment margins fall.
Why Do We Use Adblockers?
The fact that most users find it very tempting to install an Adblocker, is not surprising. Throughout the day, we are inundated with stimuli. The amount of choices we have to make is snowballing. Instead of choosing between just a handful of different types of apples at the supermarket, there are at least ten different kinds to choose from. Same for advertisements. There are so many around us these days: in the bus shelter, on the bus, in the city center, on your mobile, in the shop, on your tablet, at the cash register, on billboards – it’s never-ending. This not only makes advertisements more and more annoying; it also makes it increasingly difficult for advertisers to stand out.
So, what do advertisers do when they want to leave a lasting impression, but their ad is overrun by dozens of competitors’ ads? They basically have two options. They can really dive in, do their research and get the real professionals involved, and create a unique, creative advertisement that consumers will notice and that will turn their heads. Even, if this costs them a lot of time and money. Or, they can opt for the quick and much cheaper second option: a garish, almost aggressive ad that stands out because it is loud and possibly even tasteless and ugly. But at least, it gets noticed.
Adblockers To the Rescue
What can we do as consumers? We can put on our blinkers. We can try to filter the countless stimuli around us and ignore them as much as possible. Although, that is easier said than done, especially when online, and they can cause annoyance and frustration. Before you have the opportunity to finally read the text or that piece of information you have been looking for, you first have to click away several pop-ups and banners. If you don’t, the text will often be illegible. This means that, in fact, you are forced to watch the ad before you are granted access to content. The freedom the Internet used to stand for has been taken away from us bit by bit. Fortunately, adblockers can come to the rescue.
Adblockers shield you from many advertisements. But unfortunately, they cannot guarantee that you will be rid of those annoying pop-ups at all times. However, they will surely make your life surfing the Internet a lot more pleasant. The purpose of an adblocker is to block most of those annoying, garish and irritating advertisements. The result from the advent of adblockers is most likely an ad-free internet, or in some cases, a version of the Internet with advertisements that are more subtle, pleasant and less disturbing. However, how many ads are blocked depends on the type of adblocker you have installed. More on this later.
Adblockers Force Advertisers to Be Creative
Downloading an adblocker does not guarantee you an ad-free online experience. They do, however, lead to more appropriate, interesting and sometimes even fun advertisements. Advertising agencies around the world have been fighting adblockers for some time now and have noticed that their blatant ads have stopped working. Consequently, the only weapon they have left is being more creative. One way they are doing this is by letting you know that they know that you are using an adblocker and are thus getting your attention.
Netflix’ advertising agency, for example, came up with a campaign that was specifically aimed at users of adblockers. When those users visited the news website The Next Web, for example, they were immediately confronted with an ad featuring an alarming message, saying: “Hello Adblocker user. You cannot see the ad. But the ad can see you.”
This proved to be an ideal way to make adblockers click on the ad. Next, they were redirected to Netflix’ website. This creative campaign generated a lot of positive reactions, even among adblocker users, and showed that not all advertising has to be annoying.
Holes in the defense
While some companies fight adblockers in an appropriate and creative way, adblocker software still has a few holes to patch. Advertisers are, for example, advised to advertise from within mobile applications as much as possible as these are (still) mostly immune to adblockers.
Furthermore, certain websites are now inaccessible unless the adblocker user (temporarily) disables their adblocker. Only then can they view the website. When visiting these websites, you are immediately shown a notification consisting of a friendly request to turn off your adblocker so that you can view the content.
Another example is YouTube. You might have already noticed that YouTube is now being used more and more frequently for video advertisements. YouTube, as well as Spotify, take advantage of this new development by offering a paid ‘ad-free’ version of their video/music platform.
Finally, not every adblocker is equally effective or reliable. Some adblockers collaborate with advertisers behind the scenes and are paid to let certain ads creep through the defense lines.
The 8 best Adblockers
Adblockers will not protect you against all advertisements or every form of advertising. However, they help to get rid of most of those annoying, aggressive pop-ups that irritate you every time you go online. Our job? To test the best adblockers available and summarize their pros and cons.
Probably the best, and certainly one of the most popular adblockers out there, is AdBlock. This adblocker not only protects you against annoying pop-ups, but also against other advertisements such as those irritating YouTube advertisements. You can customize the adblocker settings to fit your liking by adding or removing filters. This gives you the ability to decide which advertisements are interesting enough for you to let through.
This adblocker can be installed as a browser extension to any browser. AdBlock is completely free and has over 65 million users worldwide. The small team behind AdBlock puts privacy first. This is the reason why AdBlock does not ask you for any personal data in order to function properly. Additionally, the Malware Protection filter is “on” by default, which gives you better protection against malware. Another advantage is that you can whitelist specific pages and even YouTube channels, to allow their ads. In this way, you can still support websites or channels that are free for you to use, but need the revenue from advertising to be able to offer their content or services for free.
Note: do not confuse this adblocker with AdBlock Plus. Although the names are very similar, the available extensions differ. Scroll down to learn more about AdBlock Plus.
2. uBlock Origin
Like AdBlock, uBlock Origin is a highly rated adblocker that can be installed independently of the browser. With the uBlock Origin adblocker you can rest assured that all ads that this blocker can block will be blocked. It is an effective adblocker with many different options. If you want to avoid AdBlock, uBlock Origin is a very good alternative.
This adblocker is available for Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Mac. It was one of the first adblockers available and is constantly being updated to ensure that new ads don’t slip through its defenses. To top it all off, this adblocker is also free.
Note: there is a difference between uBlock Origin and the uBlock.org website. Once you have installed uBlock Origin, you will find that the uBlock website will be blocked. At first this may seem like an error, but it is not. The two extensions, uBlock Origin and uBlock, have different logos and are not related to each other at all. uBlock asks for donations to develop its projects, however, this money does not go to uBlock Origin. uBlockOrigin does not accept donations.
Pay attention to this as soon as you download this adblocker, and make sure you add the correct adblocker extension to your browser.
3. AdBlock Plus
We have already mentioned this adblocker to clarify that AdBlock Plus and AdBlock are not the same adblocker, although their names are very similar. AdBlock Plus existed before AdBlock, but did not have an extension for Google Chrome, which AdBlock then capitalized on. Nowadays, Adblock Plus is also available for Chrome, as well as for Firefox, Opera, Internet Explorer, Safari, Yandex Browser, Edge, Maxthon and Android. The adblocker has been installed on more than 100 million devices. This makes it the most popular browser extension out there.
AdBlock Plus counts the number of ads blocked on a web page. In this way, you can see straight away how many ads you managed to bypass. Also, like AdBlock, AdBlock Plus uses EasyList to determine which ads should be blocked. You can adjust this list to cater to your own preferences.
AdBlock Plus has issued a number of guidelines about which ads to let pass and which ones to block. This is called the Acceptable Ads initiative. To help (small) websites to still take advantage of the ads on their pages, AdBlock Plus allows certain non-intrusive ads through. This initiative is good for advertisers, but also raises a lot of questions. AdBlock Plus is open about this practice and does disclose that there are a number of large companies that pay them to be included in the Acceptable Ads initiative. But in actual fact, this means that AdBlock Plus, a program that is made to block advertisements, makes money from advertisements.
Firefox is quite a popular browser, and its adblocker, called NoScript, is certainly worthy of being on this list. NoScript is a plugin made by Mozilla Firefox and works on all Firefox, Seamonkey, and other Mozilla browsers. Like other adblockers, it blocks pop-ups, on-page ads and tracking cookies. It also gives you the opportunity to adjust the adblocker to your own preferences by allowing you to mark certain websites as “safe”. In this way, programs such as Java and Flash will only be executed on these designated websites.
Thanks to this whitelisting system, NoScript is known as a good adblocker that also offers protection against online security risks. Vulnerabilities such as Specter and Meltdown are significantly reduced. Even Edward Snowden has stated that NoScript is a very good option for blocking ads, as well as for your own privacy and security.
NoScript is a free extension, but it only works on Mozilla and Firefox browsers. To protect yourself on, for example, Google Chrome or Internet Explorer, you would need to choose another adblocker.
The other add-on mentioned by Snowden is Ghostery. It is an extension that focuses on managing website trackers. Ghostery reveals which tracking cookies are active on a website and allows you to block them. Because this prevents websites from obtaining certain information about you, using Ghostery makes your online experience a lot safer. Ghostery makes “personalized” ads a thing of the past, meaning you are no longer bombarded with discounted wedding dresses just because you announced your niece’s wedding on Facebook last week.
As ads and trackers slow down websites, Ghostery also highlights the fact that using Ghostery will make your browsing experience cleaner and faster. As advertisements are not displayed and your personal information is not used, there are many actions that do not need to take place. This in turn, speeds up the website.
Since 2017, Ghostery has been owned by the German company Cliqz. Cliqz is an open-source privacy browser. This means that everyone can see the browser’s code, and now also that of its adblocker Ghostery, so that others can help develop the adblocker. This also ensures that any problems or quirks within the extension are quickly identified. Ghostery is free and available for Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari, Edge, Internet Explorer and Cliqz. There is also a mobile version for both Android and iOS.
This adblocker was created by Raymond Hill, who is also the developer of uBlock Origin. uMatrix is an adblocker for advanced users. The default settings of uMatrix use the opposite principle to those of most other adblockers. Instead of working with “blacklists” to block specific websites, uMatrix blocks all scripts from external parties by default. You then need to whitelist pages and websites to allow them to run on your browser. This will give you a list of pages that you have approved and would like to see.
Due to this principle, web pages that use external scripts may look slightly different after you have installed uMatrix and may not work as well. Fortunately, this can all be adjusted. uMatrix is a precise tool: it stops everything unless you have explicitly given it permission to display certain content.
uMatrix blocks cookies, advertisements, images, plug-ins, scripts and all kinds of other requests. You can view all that has been blocked so as to get a good overview of what a website does on your device. Next, you can white or blacklist all these applications separately or in one go. uMatrix also comes with extra settings to guarantee your privacy. uMatrix is free and works on Chrome, Firefox, and other browsers.
7. Privacy Badger
Privacy Badger is a smart, free adblocker from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which automatically learns to block invisible trackers. Once the extension is installed, it starts monitoring possible trackers on every website you visit. This means that, initially, cookies are not blocked. But over time, Privacy Badger will recognize which third party cookies are tracking you across the internet and will block them. This way you will not be confronted with that same pair of shoes or that handbag you bought recently.
There are several ways Privacy Badger can respond to trackers. It can block them, not reveal any information to them, or simply allow them. If you want to alter the choice that Privacy Badger has made for you automatically, then you can easily adjust this within the extension.
This adblocker is quite unique and will probably get better the longer it is used, and then more possible systems are likely to be filtered out. Privacy Badger currently works on Opera, Chrome, Firefox, and Firefox on Android.
AdLock is an adblocker that you will not easily find in the app store. This is because this adblocker not only blocks ads in your browser, but also in other apps and software. There is an extension for Chrome, but you’ll get the most out of AdLock if you install it on your smartphone and/or laptop through their site. That way you can block advertisements in mobile games and, for example, on Skype.
What we did notice while testing this adblocker, is that sometimes a “false positive” occurs. This means that the adblocker blocks something that is not an ad. For example, a cookie notification or links that are not necessarily advertising. In addition, AdLock can only be used for free for 14 days. After this period, you will need to start paying a small fee for your subscription. Nonetheless, we recommend AdLock if you want to block advertisements on mobile games or other programs, for example.
The Best Adblockers: A Brief Summary
To make it easier for you to choose between the various adblockers, we have summarized the 8 best adblockers below, and have included a brief description of their main features.
Be Careful with Google Chrome Extensions
Be careful with AdBlock Plus and adblockers which are actually Google Chrome extensions. Not because they protect you less against advertisements or the collection of cookies, but because Google collects a lot of data through them about your internet behavior. This data is then used for targeted advertising. Of course, in itself, this does not have to be a problem. However, the question does arise as to what extent Google adblockers are indeed impartial? If you want to be sure, use a Google adblocker in combination with an adblocker from an independent provider.