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Stick It To The Man: Effective Ad Blocking For Regular Folks

Your desktop and mobile Internet experiences are slowed down by the huge number of ads, spyware, and other nasty crap being downloaded to your machine.  Technologies to diminish or eliminate these annoyances have been around for over 10 years, but they broke into the mainstream only in the last couple of years according to a report from The Economist.  The invasive nature of most modern ad and tracking software has pushed more people to adopt blocking mechanisms.  Over 200 million people worldwide are now blocking ads, and the figure is increasing.  Let's discuss how you can set your system up and have a better, safer on-line experience by blocking nasty stuff.

Why Ad Blocking?

  • Privacy - have you noticed how viewing or searching some article results in more ads for the same thing appearing later on in other places?
  • Speed - ads are syndicated from different web sites from the one that you're viewing; pages with ads load twice as slow as those without them
  • Experience - when you browse the news, Facebook, whatever without ads you realize how much cleaner the page layouts are and how much better you can retain information without the constant distractions

Downsides Of Ad Blocking

  • Some sites will refuse to display any content if ad blocking is in effect
    • The good news?  This is the Internet - you can find the same content elsewhere
  • Some sites will refuse to play videos back if ad blocking is in effect
    • See the previous point - head to YouTube and find the video there
  • Some sites tie ad blocking to user preferences
    • You may have to log back on to a web site every time you visit; minor annoyance, but a huge advantage if you know that your information isn't being tracked

Setting Up Ad Blocking

  1. Get a modern browser.  Firefox and Chrome are your best choices; the built-in browsers by your operating system vendor tend to suck or be behind in features (and they may have spyware built-in, like Safari did during the OS X Yosemite launch)
  2. Install the ad blocking extensions in your browser - just follow the links in each bullet in this section
    1. Ad Block Plus - blocks most ads, offers customization to allow some ads through (useful for temporary unblocking if desired)
    2. Ghostery - blocks web site tracking by pesky sites like Facebook, DoubleClick, and others who want to use your browsing behavior to serve customized ads; also customizable
    3. HTTPS Everywhere - HTTPS is the secure protocol for interacting with web sites like your bank; most modern web sites support this type of security, but not everyone has it turned on by default - this extension enables it, further restricting the amount of information that's leaked to advertisers

These extensions don't require any specialized knowledge to be installed, and they do a very good job.  They will all put an icon on the browser's action bar that you may use for customizing their behavior.

Even Better Ad Blocking If You've Got Technical Kung F00

Install Privoxy on your own system or on the home gateway.  Privoxy is a more sophisticated ad, cookies, and privacy blocker but it requires better understanding of how web browsers and advertisers work.  At home, for example, we have both the end user set up described earlier and a general Privoxy gateway that runs between the cable modem and the rest of our network.  Privoxy catches everything that the regular blockers let through but it isn't for the casual user.

Here are the instructions on how to install Privoxy on OS X, Linux, or Windows with minimum grief, in case you want this option.

Bonus:  Facebook Without Annoyances

Facebook is the most intrusive service hands down.  In addition to the ad blocking software, there's F.B. Purity, which you may use to customize the Facebook experience to show you only the things that are relevant to you.

  • Removes annoyances from the newsfeed
  • Customizes the newsfeed to show only the things you care about
  • Eliminates games and application spam (death to Candy Crush invitations!)
  • Eliminates all ads
  • Eliminates all sponsored stories
  • Hides the boxes on the left or right sides of the screen

Installing F.B. Purity is super-simple, and you may also follow them on Facebook (who's threatened to shut them out of the service many times because it works!)

Facebook Without Purity or Ad Blockers

Facebook With Full Ad Blocking Armor

Notice the purple window at the bottom right - that's Ghostery blocking Facebook's Social Graph.


Ad blocking leads to a better on-line experience, and has significant privacy benefits as a side-effect.  This post dealt only with desktop ad blocking, mobile blocking and privacy will be coming soon.


Written by Eugene Ciurana on Wednesday August 12, 2015
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