Ad Blockers Let You Take Back the Web

August 2016

The last straw was when a page on the New York Times website crashed my web browser when it triggered a stream of warning popups. I had to force my browser to quit and then restart it.

Still, the Times is better than the many sites whose ads are so disruptive that it's difficult to read the page. You must be familiar with this by now.

The worst are the web pages that have a video pop up in the center of the page. As you're reading the article, the text suddenly jumps up to make room for the video and then jumps again when the video finishes. I lose my place in the article every time.

Also annoying are the video ads that start playing loudly when you access a page. You can't focus on the text, so you search out the video and stop it. Sometimes I have multiple browser tabs open when I start hearing sound, so then the only option is to turn my computer's sound off.

Apple's Safari browser has a couple features that get around these things. The Reader View makes the regular page disappear and shows you only the article and the accompanying photos. And you can click on a speaker icon in the search bar to stop sound that's currently playing.

However, Reader View doesn't work for all web pages. And in the case of the New York Times page I mentioned above, it had already crashed my browser.

So I finally opted to install an ad blocker. Hated to do it, though. Ads are what pay for the mostly free content that I'm accessing online.

I chose Adblock Plus, a web browser plugin that blocks banners, popups, and video ads. It's among the most popular, and is available for most browsers. In addition, it's not as aggressive as some. It actually works with the websites to encourage them to be more reasonable. If a website follows the Adblock Plus guidelines, then their ads will still appear.

However, if you choose, you can change an Adblock Plus setting so that it blocks all ads. Other options include automatically blocking known malware domains (websites that install spyware and viruses on your computer), removing social media buttons such as Facebook likes (since these track your behavior), and disabling tracking so that you can browse privately without websites tracking your every move.

For now, I've left the default setting enabled so that it still shows reasonable ads, but I've enabled blocking of malware domains. I don't mind that websites track my activity, because I'm open seeing unobtrusive ads related to my interests. Sometimes I might even buy something.

Adblock Plus is free and open source. Installing it couldn't have been easier. I went to the Adblock Plus website (adblockplus.org), and the site immediately recognized my browser and presented me with a prominent link to Install for Safari. I clicked on the link, and then clicked on the installer that had downloaded. Then I was automatically taken to a web page where I had the option of changing the default configuration.

Of course, some wsebsites have tried to circumvent Adblock Plus — attempting to block the blocker. So far their efforts have had little success.

Ads aren't only distracting, they also slow down your browsing experience. This can be especially problematic on mobile devices. In addition, ads increase the amount of data you're consuming.

Fortunately, ad blockers are available on smartphones. They've long been available on Android devices, and Apple enabled this capability on iPhones and iPads last fall. Simply go to the relevant app store and search for ad blockers. There are many free ones.

I've found that Adblock Plus helps me to take back the web. Even the Time magazine website had annoying, distracting ads. Now when I go there, a small icon to the left of my browser's search bar shows the numeral 11, indicating that 11 ads have been blocked. Clicking on the icon gives additional options, including turning it off for the website you're on.

The blocked ads on Time.com included a banner appearing across the bottom of the page and an annoying animation in the top left corner. In place of the animation a static ad now appeared that had white text on a red background. It read: "No ads. We get it. Consider what Time would look like without them…" And below that is a button labeled "Break Time.com." Click on that, and it brings up a message pleading with me to turn off my ad blocker.

For now, I'm leaving it on.

This month's hot tip:

Unroll.Me is a service that helps you cut down on unwanted emails. See what Google knows about you at myactivity.google.com.

© 2016 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen