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Written by Gonzalo Torres
Published on April 18, 2017

What's an ad blocker?

An ad blocker is a tool that removes advertisements while you browse the web. There are many ad blockers out there for you to choose from, and they vary on things like price (from totally free to premium) and effectiveness (not all ad blockers catch all online ads out there). 

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    Say you use one of the world's most popular browsers -- Chrome, Safari, Mozilla or Internet Explorer. You could try installing Adblock Plus: it bills itself as "the world's #1free ad blocker," it's free and easy to install, works on Android and iOS too-- and yes, it's pretty good.  

    Not convinced? There's always Stands Fair Adblocker (but only if your browser is Chrome), uBlock (also works on your Android or iPhone, which is neat), or AdGuard (free for the most part, though some of its features require you to pay a fee). You're spoilt for choice, is what we're saying. 

    How do you install an ad blocker?

    Ad blockers are normally browser extensions (also known as plugins or add-ons -- it all basically amounts to the same). This means they are bits of code that get installed in your browser, rather than your PC.

    And installing them is easy: just head to one of the ad blocker websites we linked to above, and you'll find some form of big, colorful 'Install' button. Clicking on it should do the trick -- you may be shown an extra installation step, in which case you should just follow the instructions on the screen. It takes a few seconds. After that, the extension should block ads on Facebook and other sites.

    Get an ad blocker -- yes or no?

    So should you get one? To help you make up your mind, we give you the reasons why you want to get an ad blocker… and the reasons why you don’t. 

    First, the pros:

    1. It makes your browsing safer

    Attackers are now buying up advertising space in some of the world’s most popular websites and loading them with malicious ads that can do major harm to your computer and your data. The fastest and easiest way to nip this in the bud is to block online ads from showing up at all.

    An ad blocker will help you remove many online ads and reduce the opportunity for malvertising attacks. But ad blockers don’t block all ads in fact, many companies pay good money to ad blocking developers in order to have their ads “whitelisted” (Adblock Plus, we’re looking at you). So you should take a few complementary steps to make sure you’re truly protected.

    2. It stops ad servers from tracking you

    Ad servers don’t just deliver ads to your browser they also like to keep an eye on what you do online and gather all sorts of personal information about you and your habits that can then be sold to third parties, or used to send you even more targeted advertising. Ad blockers claim to stop ad servers from being able to track you. 

    3. It makes your pages load faster

    When your ad blocker stops the analytics code, text and imagery that comes with every online ad, your browser is free to concentrate on loading the actual content of the site you want to visit say, the article you want to read or the video you want to stream without distractions. 

    4. It makes your data plan last longer (and saves you money)

    This is particularly true for those who like their mobile browsing experience ad-free. Some tests have shown that, while visiting news sites, more than half of your mobile data is chewed up by ads!  Although results vary wildly from site to site, once you take online ads out of the equation, there is just a lot less data to download which can be good news for your pocket if you are on a lean data plan. 

    5. It can majorly declutter your browsing experience 

    The obvious main benefit of using and ad blocker is, well,  no ads. You get cleaner websites, no annoying pop-ups, no sudden and unwelcome sound effects… Replacing all the ads with pleasant, reader-friendly white space can make the time you spend online feel like a radically different experience. Like letting Marie Kondo loose on your browser.

    If everything surrounding ad blockers sounds wonderful at this point, it’s because they are generally helpful, decent tools to have. It pays off to install one, is what we’re saying. But like everything else in life, ad blockers have a not-so-fresh side you should be aware of.

    So then, the cons:

    1. It can make important features and content disappear

    Tales abound of ad blockers wrecking the user experience in all sorts of websites, from flight booking engines to online shopping retailers, to the point that the site becomes unusable. Shopping carts, built-in customer support instant messaging apps, and even entire product pages have been swallowed whole by over-eager blockers. 

    Fortunately, it is easy to get around this by “whitelisting” select sites - adding them to a list of websites that the ad blocker will not touch. Unfortunately, it’s a textbook case of “you don’t know what you don’t know”: if you can’t see the feature in the first place, you can’t possibly know it’s missing. Keeping your ad blocker switched on means a likely trade-off between an ad-free browsing session and a fully functional one.

    2. It may sell your browsing data to third parties

    Remember how we told you many ad blockers stop ad servers  from tracking what you do online? The flipside is that some ad blockers themselves are the ones doing the tracking instead, and sending or selling the data to third parties. Yay. You’ve been warned.

    3. It may be the spawn of Satan, and you its unwitting minion

    Alright, not that bad. But ad blockers live in an ethical twilight zone, in that they pose an existential threat to many independent media outlets who rely on online advertising for their revenue. Even the big guys in the media landscape have taken a hit. 

    Ultimately, it is up to you to find that ethical sweet spot between protecting yourself from the dangers and irritations of online advertising, and letting digital media remain viable and thrive. Personally, we recommend a policy of “smart whitelisting”: make sure it’s switched off for those sites you want to support. 

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    Gonzalo Torres