Speed up your web browsing and avoid being tracked by using an ad blocker. We round up the best.
Much of what slows down and clutters up your web browsing experience is adverts and trackers. So there’s plenty of motivation to use a web browser that blocks ads automatically, or to install a browser extension that does the same job.
Websites often look a lot cleaner when stripped of their ads, making it easier to read without those annoying pop-ups. Pages can also load noticeably faster and, as a bonus on mobile devices, your data plan can go further as the ads themselves aren’t downloaded.
On the flip side, advertising exists to support all the free content that everyone expects to find on their favourite websites – including this one - and blocking them denies the creators of that content the revenue that allows them to produce it in the first place.
Some ad blockers such as AdBlock and AdBlock Plus default to allowing non-intrusive adverts, which brings some sort of balance that could make you feel more comfortable in blocking the rest. Others just block everything, including trackers which monitor your behaviour on the site and follow you as you visit other sites.
From a privacy point of view you probably don’t want to be tracked, but these again are a source of revenue for the websites that use them. But all ad blockers allow you to create a ‘whitelist’ where ads are allowed so you can support your favourite websites. AdBlock even lets you create exceptions for specific YouTube channels so you don’t deprive creators of their ad earnings.
With all this in mind, here are a few of the best ad blockers you can install today.
Ghostery has been around for years and is one of our favourite privacy extensions. It’s available for Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Edge and Internet Explorer as well as Android and iOS (and the Cliqz browser, which is owned by the parent company of Ghostery).
It’s free, too, and blocks all kinds of ads and trackers. It works on a model of taking the data that trackers pick up about you, making it anonymous and selling it on to third parties. You can opt out of this when you first run the extension so none of your data is shared.
The icon sits at the top-right of your browser as with all extensions and you can click on it to see the main interface which is one of the better ones. It offers buttons to pause blocking and also to trust the current site so ads and trackers won’t be blocked on it in future.
Easily confused with AdBlock Plus, AdBlock is by a different developer and isn’t strictly free. When you install the extension on Firefox, Chrome or Safari, it displays a message asking for donations, with the minimum being £5.
You don’t have to pay for it since you can simply close the tab but it’s a good idea to support the developers if you like AdBlock since it also happens to be one of the best ad-blockers around.
It blocks all ads on the web, including on Facebook, YouTube and other social sites. There’s even an option to remove the warning messages which pop up on some sites that you’re using an adblocker.
You can create an exceptions list so you can still use sites which are otherwise unusable with everything blocked, such as some online banks. And so you can support your favourite YouTube channels, there’s a whitelist specifically for adding these.
You can also allow what AdBlock calls Acceptable Ads – similar to those ‘non-intrusive’ ads in AdBlock Plus.
We found AdBlock worked best in Firefox, but less so in Chrome.
You can install any one of the many ad-blocking extensions on the desktop version of Firefox (which also has some built-in blocking of its own), but Mozilla has created a dedicated mobile browser for Android and iOS called Focus.
This is focused on privacy which means that, by default, it works like the private browsing mode on other browsers. But unlike many of those ‘incognito’ modes which aren’t truly private, Focus doesn’t save your history, cookies or allow sites to track you.
It also – in case you were wondering - blocks ads. This makes content is easier to read on a smaller screen and it saves on your data plan as ads aren’t downloaded.
It’s a stripped down experience with no tabs or other clutter, so it should appeal to those who like to keep things simple.
The browser lets you selectively block different things, including social trackers, analytics and other content.
Opera is a web browser that has a built-in ad-blocker so you don’t need to install any extensions: it just works.
Blocking ads also blocks many tracking cookies, which means your privacy is protected as well.
Although Opera isn’t the best-known browser, it has gained quite a few features over the last year including a very handy built-in VPN service and is – in our opinion – just as good a Chrome and Firefox in terms of performance.
It’s also available on Android, so you can install the Opera Mini browser which also automatically blocks ads.
AdBlock Plus is one of the best-known and arguably most controversial ad-blockers. It’s simple to install on Chrome, Firefox and Opera, and is free to the user.
It allows what it calls “non-intrusive advertising” to be displayed, which is where the controversy lies. AdBlock Plus splits the revenue with the companies who display the ads, so you could say its business model isn’t far off the websites whose ads you want to block.
It does, however, block the annoying ads which cover the content you’re trying to view as well as pop-ups and pop-unders.
It’s also simple to toggle blocking on and off for the site you’re currently browsing. That’s handy when the content is withheld until you disable your ad-blocker, or you simply want to support your favourite sites. And in the options there’s a whitelist where you can manage the sites you’ve unblocked.
Occasionally AdBlock Plus will fail to block some ads that we’d describe as intrusive, but this happens very rarely, at least on all the websites we use on a regular basis.
AdBlock is also available on phones. It’s called the AdBlock Browser and you can download it for Android and iOS.
It has many of the same features as the desktop extension, including block tracking on sites, “malvertising” and allowing the same non-intrusive ads.
Interestingly, the developer has released another extension you might like: Trusted News warns you of potentially fake news as you browser the web.
An open-source and non-profit project, AdBlocker Ultimate doesn't receive money from sites in order to get onto a whitelist of 'acceptable' ads.
Instead it blocks ads, disables tracking and blocks domains known to spread malware. Yet, it also lets you switch back on ads for sites you love and trust - and want to support.
The extension is available Chrome, Firefox, IE, Safari, Opera and Yandex. Its interface is much like other ad blockers, showing how many ads have been blocked on the page you're viewing and a link so you can disable blocking for the domain you're currently on.