Online advertisements now bombard users with video and audio stimuli, simultaneously draining their battery and bandwidth. So much so that some advertisers have openly admitted fault. This year alone there has been a 30% increase in users who make use of ad blocking plugins. But even doing this won’t keep you safe because Adblock Plus, a popular ad blocking plugin, allows ads to go through if a company pays them. Which, ironically, makes them an advertisement broker. If you’re thinking “Hold on a minute, advertising is necessary for revenue” – well, that’s a valid point. But so is this: having good ad blocking and browsing habits can be as or more effective than an antivirus. In this post, I’ll survey the current best options users have for ad blocking and privacy plugins on Firefox and/or Chrome. But first, take a moment to reflect on the history of ads:
I’ve always enjoyed South Park for its ability to poignantly address serious issues in a lighthearted way, so I added this clip of a scene from “Truth and Advertising” from season 19.
- uBlock Origin – Great plugin. Simple, effective, and bug free. Install it and forget. You can turn it off if you need a window to open that’s being blocked by simply clicking the plugin icon and then clicking the universal power symbol. There is also a row of icons at the bottom that toggle the blocking of certain types of content, which is useful if it’s preventing part of the web page from loading.
- uMatrix – This is a “point and click matrix based firewall” plugin. It displays a grid of objects that are present on the current page by their domain and code type (css, image, script, frame, etc). This one is a little more complex and takes some getting used to, but it is steadily becoming more popular. To see how it works more in depth, read here.
- Ghostery – When you load a web page, you’re not just communicating with one server. Any decent sized website now has embedded content from several or more domains, some having as many as 10 or 20 (uMatrix displays this the best). Some agencies attempt to build profiles of users by gathering data about which websites they visit, what things they like and buy so they can place targeted ads on your screen. Ghostery checks which known advertising agencies are being communicated with and stops that communication from ever happening, hence the choice of the word “ghost”. Some of the functionality of this plugin requires a login. How can you be sure that Ghostery isn’t just being hypocritical like Adblock plus and collecting your data instead? The code is open source, and can be viewed by anyone on Github.
- Bloody Vikings! – Yeah, you read that right. The name grabbed my attention when browsing the privacy & security plugins on Mozilla’s website and so I checked it out. It adds a drop down menu to your browser of disposable email address services and opens it in a new tab. Since you need to give away your email address every time you want to sign up for something or try something out, it’s not long before you’re on a few mailing lists that you never really even agreed to. Disposable emails fix that problem by providing a free email address either temporarily, or more interestingly, a public “shared” email address that anyone can view if they pick the same email address (see yopmail). Keep your main email spam free and use disposable emails when you’re only going to use the prospective service/website one or two times.
That’s it for plugins. I recommend using at least one of these plugins, uBlock and NoScript usually get the job done together. There are other ways to block ads, like with a Raspberry Pi running Pi-hole 24/7. With this method the advertisements never even get a chance to load because the connection to the ad has been filtered out. It works by changing your DNS (domain name server) to ignore the domains associated with advertising companies. With these tools, the only ads I still have to deal with are the 5 second (until you click skip) video ads on YouTube.