Adblocking

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Adblocking is the act of choosing what content is displayed to you, and it's associated code executed, when using internet and consuming content, most commonly taking form of blocking ads and trackers which follow you across the web and sell your personal information to the highest bidder.
Most ads and ad companies are fundamentally opposed to privacy, as they have unilaterally decided that they are entitled to personal information about you which you would rarely volunteer if the method of gathering was less opaque. They further take it upon themselves to use this information against your personal interests, by manipulating your choices and taking away your freedom, to pad their bottom line.

Isn't this hurting content creators?[edit | edit source]

We do too, The Library Owl. We do too. (Link to original)

Fundamental premise of such questions is that good or useful content would not exist unless it is commercially motivated. We fundamentally reject this idea. Have you seen Wikipedia?

We believe that culture is and should be free (as in freedom), and the only real way to control information is to not disclose it. If you have made content publicly accessible on the web, then the content if freely accessible, and you don't get to decide how it is displayed by the reader.
Imagine if magazine publishers made their products available for free, but then tried to prevent you from tearing out the full page ads because it hurts their bottom line. Then imagine if those same magazines came with little cameras spying on you and with embedded GPS trackers, and you'd have the basic idea of what is being suggested here.
Publishers can put their content behind login screens and pay walls, and many do. They can refuse the serve the page unless the ads load. But they don't want to because it hurts their reach and search rank placement. Do not accept such attempts to moralise their way to even larger profits from people who will readily breach your privacy and serve you malware.

In the world where every page load assaults you with concentrated attempts to control your mind and decisions it makes (which do work, regardless of how much you think they don't), blocking ads is the right thing to do.

[edit | edit source]

If you want to support content creators, donate instead. Most ads pay so extremely little that donating almost any amount means you're supporting the content creator far more than suffering through endless ads would.

Why block ads?[edit | edit source]

Most ads found online actively harm your privacy by both collecting information on you and using previously collected information about you to exert control over your decisions.

Collecting new information[edit | edit source]

Many websites, dare we say even most websites, embed into their code a tracking script which collects information about you upon the page load. The culprits are often the usual suspects such as Google, Facebook, Amazon or Microsoft, who have programs which allow website creators the ability to display ads in return for revenue as well as insight into the website's user base. While the webmaster may use this info to improve their website, the advertising company feeds this data into their machine learning engines which correlate this data to infer, usually with a scary degree of accuracy, information about the website visitor.
Upwards of 200 parameters are tracked, but some of the most common ones are

  • User agent - a sort of an ID string which tells the site the type of content the browser is likely to be able to render properly
  • IP address - your internet address, which reveals your rough location (such as city or suburb you're in)
  • Screen resolution - size/shape of your monitor
  • HTTP cookies - small bits of unique text which sites leave behind on your device, allowing them to read it later on subsequent loads of the site
  • Operating system - what type of device you're using
  • system language

and many many others...
While these bits of information seem inconsequential, a combination of 200+ such bits of information can uniquely identify you as an individual and allow the advertisers to build profile on you, a sort of permanent record, containing detailed records regarding who you are and what you like. This may include things you don't mind being made public, such as 'likes chocolate' but can also contain data that advertiser has inferred about you which may not be willing to share such as 'is gay' or 'is an atheist' (a capital crime in Saudi Arabia).
In this particularly depressing example, users on reddit are sharing tips on how to avoid being re-traumatised by ads following a miscarriage.

Targeting you[edit | edit source]

Easy wins[edit source]

These measures are 'easy wins'. They will not significantly inconvenience you or get in your way. They are recommended for almost anyone.

Browsers[edit | edit source]

Every major browser supports addons or extensions. Using this functionality to install an adblocker is one of the easiest and least complex ways to take matters into your own hands.

uBlock Origin[edit | edit source]

uBlock Origin's dashboard

This free and open source add-on uses community compiled blocklists to monitor the outgoing browser requests, cancelling those which are going to a known ad servers.

Improving the defaults[edit | edit source]

While the default settings are excellent for adblocking, uBlock Origin is also an excellent tool to help preserve your privacy and make your online experience better.

  • Click on the uBlock Origin shield icon - found in the top right of your browser usually
  • Select 'Open the Dashboard' - looks like a set of interlocking cogwheels
  • Select 'Filter Lists' tab
  • Find the section called 'Privacy' - you may have to expand it by clicking a little '+' sign on the left of the word section title
    • Enable all the filters found here
  • Find the section called 'Annoyances' - you may have to expand it by clicking a little '+' sign on the left of the word section title
    • Enable annoyances filters to get rid of many common annoyances from many websites
      • AdGuard Annoyances
      • Fanboy’s Annoyance
      • uBlock filters – Annoyances
    • Enable social media filters if you don't use social media
      • AdGuard Social Media
      • Anti-Facebook
      • Fanboy’s Social
    • Block cookie banners - if you live in EU and don't want to be annoyed by cookie banners
      • EasyList Cookie
  • Enable regional filters - if you access non-English websites
  • Hit 'Apply Changes' and 'Update Now' and close the tab

Smartphones[edit | edit source]

Android[edit | edit source]

Android supports DNS based filtering as well as few browser-based solutions.

Private DNS[edit | edit source]

Android's Private DNS entry window. Yours may look slightly different depending on the Android interface you're using.

If you have an Android 9 or later device, you can change your DNS provider to a provider which will refuse to resolve ads, thus giving you DNS based tracking and content blocking. Android supports DNS over TLS (DoT) and you can therefore use any DoT supporting provider. We're partial to BlahDNS, a non-profit open source provider, but an exhaustive list of virtually every adblocking or filtering DNS exists.

Once you've picked your DNS provider, head over to your settings and under network settings (usually) you can enter the DNS provider details.

Browsers[edit | edit source]

On Android, there are a number of browser-based adblocking options.

Firefox Mobile with uBlock Origin[edit | edit source]

Firefox Mobile supports add-ons/extensions. This means that you can download uBlock Origin and configure it, as described in the above sections.

Bromite[edit | edit source]

If you're more partial to Chromium-based browsers, a good choice is Bromite. Built on the same technological foundations as Google's ⚠ Chrome, but includes adblocking and is far more privacy respecting.

YouTube[edit | edit source]

YouTube Vanced[edit | edit source]

YouTube Vanced is a modified version of the official YouTube app which does not display ads. It also integrates SponsorBlock, a database of YouTube sponsor segments (when the adds are baked into the videos) so you can optionally skip those as well.

iOS[edit | edit source]

iOS supports so-called content blockers, which can be thought of as adblock-like mechanisms. AdGuard is usually the go-to solution, but many other do exist.

Going all the way[edit source]

These steps are not for the feint of heart, either because they require a degree of technical know-how or because they may requires certain sacrifice of convenience or a change of established habits.

Network-wide blocking[edit | edit source]

There are number of ways that you can block ads network-wide. This means that anyone connected to your network, via WiFi or Ethernet, will benefit from adblocking without any further setup or intervention. This is a very attractive option if you have lots of devices on your network, and you don't want to manage their options manually. The additional benefit is that this will enable adblocking on devices where this is not normally possible to adblock, such as Smart TVs.

DNS change[edit | edit source]

You can change your DNS provider for your modem/router to an adblocking provider which will refuse to resolve ads, thus providing you with network-wide adblocking. This is essentially the same concept as DNS-based adblocking described in the Andoroid section of this guide, further up the page, but since your modem/router usually controls the DNS forwarding for all the devices on your network, the net result is that all the devices benefit, not just one.
You can change your DNS provider by accessing your modem/router's web configuration page. There are many hundreds of different modems and/or routers so it is impossible to give you specific instructions, but generally you would visit your device's admin interface (usually http://192.168.1.1 OR http://192.168.0.1 OR http://10.0.0.1). If it asks you for a password, this password is usually either on a sticker on the device, or in the manual or you can usually just search the internet for something like DEVICE NAME default login or if you set it yourself, you should know what it is. Once you log in, simply find the section called DNS, and change the DNS servers to one of the adblocking options.
We're partial to BlahDNS, a non-profit open source provider, but an exhaustive list of virtually every adblocking or filtering DNS exists.

PiHole[edit | edit source]

PiHole's interface, after install.

PiHole is a FOSS software package which can take over DNS resolution and add many bells and whistles to allow you to manage and log how DNS resolution is performed on your network.

It is usually deployed on a RaspberryPi, a little credit-card sized single-board computer which you have to purchase separately for approximately US$35, but it is also possible to deploy it on other platforms and operating systems, such as Docker.

Limitations of DNS-based filtering[edit | edit source]

However, these solution do have their limits, unfortunately. This DNS server setting is not something devices on your network have to use and follow. It is more of a suggestion, and any device on your network is free to ignore it and perform DNS lookups on its own. While most devices respect this setting, many dubious devices such as privacy-invading Smart TVs, IoT devices and Amazon/Google/Facebook devices usually ignore it (because they are savvy to this trick, and are purposefully disregarding your preferences to invade your privacy). If this is the case for you, try one of the alternative options below.

Custom router firmware[edit | edit source]

By far the most robust network-wide adblocker is found in certain custom firmware for certain routers. These custom firmwares are, essentially, alternate operating systems for your router, which you can deploy if you own a compatible router model. These firmwares usually have advanced features, and this particural selection also has network-adblockers that can actually prevent devices on your network from doing their own DNS lookups and force them to respect the settings you have set.

You choice of firmware will depend on your router usually, but these are prominent projects:

  • FreshTomato
  • DD-WRT
  • Asuswrt-Merlin - this project only supports Asus routers, but if you own a compatible Asus router (or are in the market for one) it is hard to go wrong by using this project
    • Asuswer-Merlin does not have an adblocker out of the box, but you can easily add it by using Diversions project