To say that internet ads are a nuisance would be an understatement. Designed to garner clicks by hook or by crook, they can be distracting, deceptive, or out right disruptive. And since ads often involve rich media that’s pre-loaded on the page, they can make pages load slower, delaying the content people are actually looking for. A cluttered, bogged down browsing experience is the least of the trouble they bring, however—contemporary ads, reliant on data gathering and vulnerable to malware, pose a considerable risk to data security.
With all the trouble that ads bring with them, people have naturally found a way to get around them. While ad-blocking technology has a few variations, the most common methods rely on identifying the common elements in ads—their dimensions, scripts, and data requests from other sites—and stopping these before a page is loaded. In more practical terms, ad-blockers can also be classified based on which programs or devices they can be used with: browser extensions, mobile apps, and router VPNs.
For desk- and laptop computers, the simplest and most common way to block ads is through the use of an ad-blocking browser extension. For the most part, these simply need to be downloaded and then enabled in the browser’s settings for them to take effect. Most can be customized to be more strict or to make certain exceptions; this is useful for cases when their ad recognition patterns are off the mark, or when you want to allow ads on specific sites (more on why you might want to below).
Most mobile browsers have options for ad-blocking that you can probably find with a search in the appropriate ad marketplace. Alternatively, you could also download one with built-in ad-blocking, such as Opera or the AdBlock Plus browser.
Of course, since mobile devices often display content outside browser apps, you might also want to use an app the blocks ads for your entire device. This approach is somewhat trickier, of course, and requires you to grant the ad-blockers more access to your device. That said, there are a few options for both Android and iOS devices.
It’s also possible to block ads through a router by setting it up with a virtual private network (VPN) that has ad-blocking features (note that not all routers are compatible with VPNs). A router with such a setup will block ads on all programs for all devices using its connection. In addition, a VPN encrypts all information coming into or out of your network, mitigating the privacy risks that come with ad targeting and retargeting.
Ad-blocking is not without its drawbacks. Much of the internet’s free content relies on revenue that comes from ads. When these ads are blocked in significant quantity, those websites struggle. Some websites employ anti-blocking technology in response. Some analysts fear that left unchecked, indiscriminate ad-blocking could lead to a software arms-race.
In order to compromise between optimal browsing experiences for users and steady revenue for websites, some ad-blockers have ad whitelists. These include ads that meet their quality standards as well as any that individual users add to the list of exceptions. If you want to keep yourself safe while supporting a trusted website, you might want to enable such whitelisted ads, or customize your own whitelist.