Ad Blocker Comparison: The Strongest Will Win
Ads are probably the most annoying and pervasive part of the internet. They’re annoying, slow down our computers, and sometimes even spread malware through the operating system.
Thank goodness for developers – they’re never one to shy from a challenge. In the past 10 years, developers have jostled for the top position in ad-blocking software, making newer, faster, cheaper versions than their competitors.
But which ad-blocking extension is the best for you? That depends on your needs. Are you looking for a cut-and-dry ad blocker or something that can do a little more? Are you looking for an ethically-minded company or one with 50,000,000 users?
Keep reading to learn more about some of the top players in the industry. EverSpark presents an objective, comprehensive look into the best ad blockers out there.
Founded by Michael Gundlach in 2009, AdBlock seeks to block “annoying and intrusive” ads in an effort to provide a worry-free, distraction-free online experience. Downloaded by 65,000,000 users worldwide and available on all major browsers in 40 languages, AdBlock is one of the most accessible options for ad-blocking.
Users can download AdBlock for free, but make no mistake: it’s still a business. The platform makes money (and plenty of it, we might add), through “whitelisting” – allowing companies to display ads only if they meet certain criteria for things like ad placement and size. Companies can sign up to be on AdBlock’s whitelist, and if they’re on it, the only way a user can have that ad out of their sight is to manually go in and change the settings.
AdBlock deflects advertisements and pop-ups across millions of websites and social media platforms. It works on Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Safari browsers, is compatible with iOS and Android devices, and provides a Premium option with access to customizations in exchange for recurring payment.
The company behind AdBlock Plus, eyeo GmbH (no relation to AdBlock), states on its website that “users deserve control of their internet experience. Publishers deserve to monetize their content.” The company lives up to this credo with AdBlock Plus, quite possibly the most popular ad blocker on the Internet with more than 100,000,000 active devices.
AdBlock Plus’ reputable open-source code has prompted competitors to follow suit; the similarly-named but unaffiliated AdBlock adopted the code for itself. Eyeo GmbH is responsible for creating the most comprehensive filter list, including options for users to block malware and social media buttons. Software support is available in 52 languages, and the extension is one of the most frequently updated in the industry.
Like AdBlock, AdBlock Plus generates revenue by participating in the Acceptable Ads program, allowing publishers and advertisers to promote their product online if it follows a specific set of criteria. AdBlock Plus is free for all users.
It’s all in the name: unlike some of the other options on this list, Ghostery’s bread and butter is user privacy. The New York City-based company has its own ad blocker but focuses more on blocking web trackers and analytics devices that collect information from users. Ghostery allows users to see the trackers that are trying to access their data, and the platform offers Enhanced Anti-Tracking to anonymize data.
Ghostery’s website is full of virtuously salient verbs like “enabling,” “empowering,” and “demystifying.” It’s clear that Ghostery holds fast to its brand value of “doing everything in favor of our user’s privacy.”
Unlike other companies on this list, Ghostery is not a member of the Acceptable Ads program, meaning they only make money when users upgrade to subscription plans. Ghostery’s Basic Protection plan is free, but users have the option to upgrade to Ghostery Plus for $4.99/month.
Privacy Badger keeps tabs on third-party domains that embed images, scripts, and advertising content on the websites that you visit, as well as looking out for uniquely identifying cookies, “supercookies,” cookie sharing via image pixels, and canvas fingerprinting.
Created by the leading nonprofit organization Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy Badger features highly intuitive code; in cases where a third party is necessary for providing embedded maps or stylesheets, Privacy Badger will allow connections to the third party but screen out its tracking cookies and referrers.
Privacy Badger doesn’t keep lists of which websites to block; instead, the software discovers and blocks trackers based on their behavior. If Privacy Badger detects a tracker following you across three or more websites, it’ll block the tracking domain. The platform sends Global Privacy Control signals to opt you out of data sharing and selling as well as Do Not Track signals to tell companies not to track you. If they ignore your wishes, Privacy Badger will block them.
Privacy Badger is free and open-source and is not a member of the Acceptable Ads program.
uBlock Origin doesn’t have the most thrilling website, but their bare-bones approach to design is actually a testament to their principal offering: a wide-spectrum content blocker with central processing unit (CPU) and memory efficiency.
Users with some technical knowledge will find uBlock to be highly configurable: to prevent ads from a specific source, users can add third-party domains to uBlock’s extensive filter lists or permanently unblock a site by editing it to a whitelist that can be edited directly from the browser.
Founded by Raymond Hill in 2014, the software reported an 833% growth rate over 10 months ending in August 2016 – the fastest growth of any software publicly listed at the time. The report attributed the rapid growth to users’ desire for “pure” ad blockers that operated outside the Acceptable Ads program used by AdBlock and AdBlock Plus.
And the Best Ad Blocker Is…
Sorry, we didn’t mean to fool you, but there are actually several “winners” in different categories. Each option has its own benefits and downsides, and your individual needs will dictate which of our suggestions is the “best.” Again, sorry. In life, there are no straight answers.
But you’re in luck if you know what you’re looking for in an ad blocker (or just an inkling). We’ve split up the winners into six categories: Best for Transparency, Best for Efficiency, Best for User Privacy, Best for Customization, Best for User-Friendliness, and for the pragmatists among you, Best Ad Blocker.
Best for Efficiency: uBlock Origin
So, you’re sick and tired of visiting websites so clogged with ads that they take upwards of 30 seconds to load.
And even then, the second you scroll down the page, more ads have to load and everything is jumbled up all over again. You decide to install an ad blocker extension, but did you know that these little bits of software can slow down your computer even more?
We call that counterproductive, but luckily, one extension surpasses the rest in terms of CPU and memory consumption. Software guru DeBugBear demonstrated this by comparing 1,000 different ad-blocker extensions to see how they affected browser performance in terms of page CPU time (how long the main page thread is busy), page rendering delays (how long it takes to load the page to display content), background CPU time (how much processing the extinction has to do in the background), and browser memory consumption (how much memory different components of the browser uses).
uBlock Origin destroyed the competition in almost every category. Just take a look at this graph:
uBlock Origin has the lowest amount of browser memory consumption, meaning your computer won’t have to “work” as hard to load and interact with the page.
uBlock Origin may be at the top of this graph, but that’s a good thing: displayed here are the different amounts of time that certain extensions take to process in the background. uBlock Origin is the second-fastest, coming in only behind DuckDuckGo’s Privacy Essentials extension. (“No extinction” is shown for control purposes. Because extensions work by blocking certain network requests, browsers with no extension will take longer to process.)
Best for User Privacy: Privacy Badger
Unlike the other extensions included in this list, Privacy Badger doesn’t require custom configuration to block non-consensual trackers.
The software automatically blocks malicious trackers and ads and sets a privacy protection level (red, meaning content from the third party tracker has been completely disallowed, yellow, meaning the domain appears to be tracking you but is necessary for the website to function, or green, meaning there is a third party domain but it hasn’t yet been observed tracking you across multiple sites).
Privacy Badger is primarily a privacy tool, not a traditional ad blocker. As such, users may benefit most by downloading an ad-blocking extension alongside Privacy Badger.
Best for Customization: Ghostery
Maybe you don’t want to block all ads on your browser – maybe your best friend or partner owns a business that relies on online advertisements.
Whatever the case, with Ghostery you can easily customize your web browsing experience to make it exactly what you want.
If you want to prevent individual trackers or entire ad types from accessing your information, you can. Ghostery breaks down each page into thorough details of the kinds of trackers and ads located on the specific site. You can eliminate specific components or make large, sweeping eliminations.
In Ghostery’s own words, its extension allows you to “browse the way you want” and “effortlessly modify tracker and ad protection at the individual and categorical level.”
Best for User-Friendliness: AdBlock & Adblock Plus
That’s right, Best for User-Friendliness is a twofer. That’s mostly because AdBlock and AdBlock Plus have such similar code – Adblock is based on AdBlock Plus’ software, after all. The average user would almost certainly not be able to tell the difference.
Both extensions are quick to install, easily turned off by clicking the icon in the browser, and have simple default options that are easy to change. Of course, you don’t have to change anything about the extension if you don’t want to – if you’re like 95% of the people who download ad blockers, you’ll probably be satisfied installing it and forgetting about it.
Both extensions also allow you to build entire whitelists (websites you don’t mind seeing ads from), add sites to a blacklist (sites that you never want to see ads from again, or sites with malware-ridden ads), and customize certain options in the extension.
The only difference might be that AdBlock Plus looks a little simpler than AdBlock. If you’re all about aesthetics, you might consider AdBlock Plus.
Best for Online Morality: Privacy Badger
We can’t talk about ad blockers, themselves a technology based on the presumption that privacy equals morality, without talking about online morality itself.
In 2021, we’re in the midst of a kind of online reckoning. People are calling on everyone from garden stores to software companies to be more transparent in their business dealings and consumer relations.
Privacy Badger won in this category because of its strong focus on preventing non-consensual invasions of users’ privacy, and because of its incentives for advertising companies to do the right thing. Of course, it helps that Privacy Badger is owned and operated by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit whose mission is to “ensure that technology supports freedom, justice, and innovation for all people of the world.”
That’s a pretty far cry from another company on this list. AdBlock Plus has been accused of extortion-like practices thanks to its Acceptable Ads program, where companies offer money in exchange for preferential treatment on its whitelist. Now, keep in mind that that is their business model (in addition to AdBlock’s), but if you’re an ethics zealot, AdBlock Plus might not be the extension for you.
Best Ad Blocker: uBlock Origin
If you’re looking for a content-blocking powerhouse that won’t slow your computer to a snail’s pace, look no further than uBlock Origin. The open-source, cross-platform ad blocker boasts faster load times, numerous filters, including privacy, malware domains, and more, and doesn’t hog system resources by taking up a ton of space.
uBlock Origin is also easy to disable on a case-by-case basis, making it a customizable and effective powerhouse for blocking the content you don’t want to see. To get the most out of uBlock Origin, we suggest pairing it with Privacy Badger. When taken in tandem, these extensions will block ads and malware and keep you concealed from prying eyes and potentially harmful domains.
Download uBlock Origin here.