Sure, mobile ads are annoying. Pop-ups interfere with the browsing experience, banner ads take up valuable real estate on an already small screen, and auto-play videos are just irritating.
Enter ad blockers: apps and extensions that remove these advertisements from websites. While they address some aesthetic annoyances, their real value is in adding a layer of protection to your online privacy and security.
“Ads are commonly laced with malware, which is well known to infect devices,” security industry veteran Jeremiah Grossman says. “When ads are blocked, this avenue for infection is closed down and helps keep mobile devices from getting hacked.”
These apps and extensions also protect your privacy. Advertisers often lace their ads with code that tracks where you are, which sites you visit when, for how long, from where you arrived, and what you visit after, Grossman says. Ad blockers prevent this code from executing, keeping your browsing habits safe from advertisers.
Beyond aesthetics, privacy, and security, ad blockers can improve your device’s performance too, says Ben Williams, communications and operations director for ad-blocking tool AdBlock Plus. Because ads are processor-intensive, they consume more battery power and data. Enabling ad blockers helps you retain your battery life and ultimately saves you money.
Before you download an ad-blocking app or extension, double-check that you’re downloading it from a reputable source, says Benjamin Watson, mobile-security researcher at Mobile Labs. “You want the app to come from its website, or a trusted store like Google Play or Apple’s App Store. Otherwise, you risk downloading malware,” he says.
Here’s a look at six reputable apps and extensions that block mobile ads available for iOS and Android users, vetted by the experts.
The 1Blocker app and extension, available only for iOS and Safari browsers, features 28,000 configurable, preinstalled blockers and whitelist capabilities. In addition to ad blocking, 1Blocker lets you block comments, social widgets, share buttons, custom fonts, and adult sites. Download the basic version, which blocks only ads, for free, or upgrade for $2.99 to gain the customization features.
AdBlock Plus offers apps and extensions for iOS, Android, and a number of browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, and Safari. Besides disabling, tracking, and blocking ads and domains known to spread malware, it lets you customize what you want and don’t want to see with filter lists and whitelists. By default, it displays nonintrusive ads that it deems acceptable, though this option can be turned off. (AdBlock Plus accepts money from advertisers to show whitelisted ads.) AdBlock Plus is free.
Blockr turns off ads, media, social buttons, cookies, and cookie warnings in Safari. The app, available only for iOS users, also features whitelisting capabilities. Price: 99 cents.
The Purify app, available for iOS and Android, says it will quadruple your browsing speed. In addition to blocking ads and trackers in browsers, Purify allows you to block images, scripts, and fonts, and lets you whitelist sites. It also puts your apps into hibernation when they’re not in use, saving you battery life. Price: $1.99.
Refine blocks all ads on Safari for iOS. In addition to standard ad blocking, the app lets you whitelist and block specific sites, or block resources by URL filtering, resource type, and load type, it says. Refine is free.
uBlock Origin is available as an extension for various browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. It features a number of customization options, including filters, whitelists, and malware domains. uBlock Origin is open-source and free to download.