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What Is an Ad Blocker: Everything You Need to Know

Ad Blockers

Wherever you go, you will get bombarded with tons of ads on the internet.

While many of them provide value, the massive amount of advertisements can easily become disturbing for users as they try to enjoy their favorite activities in the digital world.

In fact, some publishers place so many ads in their apps and websites that it prevents users from enjoying the actual content.

Fortunately, using an ad blocker is an excellent way to remain (nearly) advertisement-free on the web.

In this article, we will explore what an ad blocker is, how ad blocking works, its benefits and downsides, as well as the actual methods to prevent advertisers from ruining your online experience.

The Problem With the Current Online Advertising Landscape

Before we dive into our topic, let’s first take a look at the problem ad blockers are meant to solve: the disturbing and intrusive nature of the current online advertising landscape.

Before the age of the internet, people encountered ads mostly in newspapers, on TV, radio, and billboards.

While the average person was exposed to between 500 advertisements a day during the 1970s, this number surged to a daily 5,000 by 2007.

With the rise of digital advertising, we now see an estimated 4,000-10,000 advertisements every day, which can be quite overwhelming.

And it’s no surprise.

It’s super easy for businesses to create, place, and show an ad to internet users by utilizing the advertising platforms of tech giants like Facebook and Google, which dominate the digital ad space.

Interestingly, even though the pandemic caused a huge hit to the online advertising industry, online ad spend still managed to grow by 1.7% in the US in 2020. In fact, Statista predicts worldwide digital advertising revenues to surge from 2019’s $333.8 billion to $491.1 billion by 2025 with a 5.67% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR).

Due to the current nature of the online advertising landscape, consumers have developed strategies and mechanisms to cope with the massive amount of ads they encounter.

Much to the chagrin of advertisers, consumers are interacting with less and less ads, decreasing the return on investment (“ROI”) for advertisers, i.e., making advertising dollars spent less profitable for advertisers.

Consumers can hardly be blamed for wanting to distance themselves from online ads; indeed, they face numerous issues with the current state of digital advertising, including:

  • Disturbing user experience: Imagine being bombarded by ads while reading this article with banners placed on the sides, the top, and the bottom of the page, as well as after every second or third paragraph. And, to make it extra annoying, imagine having to avoid the dreaded pop-up, which websites increasingly use despite the fact that pop-ups irritate about 73% of internet users, according to a HubSpot survey.
  • Interrupting primary activities: In addition to being annoying, some ads even interrupt internet users’ primary activities. Take YouTube ads before videos or promotions in smartphone games as examples, which keep consumers waiting before they can access the publishers’ content.
  • Slowdowns and battery drainage: While trackers and banners are being loaded, large numbers of unoptimized ads can appear and take their toll on applications’ and websites’ performance. According to an Opera study, a website is 51% slower on average when ads are displayed than with blocked advertisements. In addition to performance issues, the firm revealed that ads can also drain the battery life of devices by nearly 13%.
  • Security concerns: In the past few years, malvertising has become a real issue for internet users. Malvertising refers to spreading malware and viruses via online advertising and was responsible for roughly 1% of the ad impressions in May 2019. In addition to infecting user devices, cybercriminals also use digital advertising to attract victims with fraudulent schemes.
  • Lack of privacy: Have you ever visited an ecommerce store without making a purchase just to later encounter the same business’ ads on social media? Besides advertisements, most websites and platforms on the internet use web trackers to collect, store, and share data about the visitors’ online activities. As a result of exchanging user information with third parties, advertising networks know everything about you, diminishing your privacy on the web.

What Is an Ad Blocker?

An ad blocker is a software solution capable of preventing advertisements from showing for the user while browsing the web or utilizing an application.

Contrary to their name, most ad blockers do not actually block advertisements. Instead, they stop ads from downloading on your browser by disabling requests that include advertising-related content.

As a result, users can enjoy a mostly ad-free experience with enhanced security, privacy, and device performance without being exposed to intrusive content.

How Do Ad Blockers Work?

Ad blocking software solutions use simple filter lists containing URLs to identify and block advertisement-related content on websites and applications.

In web browsers, ad blockers work in the following way:

  1. Upon visiting a website, the ad blocker checks its filter list to see whether the site is included.
  2. If the search returns positive results, the ad blocking software blocks requests to external content, which prevents the advertisement from getting downloaded and shown on the page.

Instead of completely disabling the request, other ad blocking services replace the advertising content with something else after identifying it.

No matter the method used to disable advertisements, filter lists play a key role in the ad blocking process.

For that reason, filter lists are regularly maintained and updated by both the creators and third-party communities independent of the developers.

Most ad blockers allow users to whitelist the ads of different websites, services, and applications. By doing so, they can support the creators, prevent possible ad blocking-related page issues, or unlock the content of publishers that use ad block walls.

Many ad blockers provide protection against all kinds of intrusive content, such as advertisements, malware, and web trackers, across many applications, web browsers, and devices.

At the same time, some ad blocking software solutions can only disable unwanted content in specific apps and devices.

How Do Ad Blockers Make Money?

Not all ad blockers are created equal, as some are more effective in providing a distraction-free experience to users than others.

An excellent way to determine an ad blocking solution’s efficiency is by examining the service provider’s business model.

Ad blockers can make money in multiple ways, with the most popular methods including:

  • Free: Some ad blockers function as open-source apps that are available to users for free. While they are maintained by the community, free solutions often finance their development via donations. A good example of this business model is uBlock Origin. However, strangely enough, the project’s creator doesn’t accept any donations. Instead, the developer decided not to create a dedicated website or a forum for the ad blocker in order to cut the maintenance costs.
  • Paid service: Instead of resorting to the community’s help and donations, many ad blocking software solutions offer services in exchange for an upfront payment or a subscription fee.
  • Freemium: Freemium is a popular business model among software solutions, and multiple ad blockers use it. Here, users can utilize only a part of the features for free. Optionally, they can pay a one-time or monthly subscription fee to access more powerful ad blocking functions.
  • Whitelisting some of the ads: Certain ad blockers use a rather controversial business model. While they offer their services for free to users, the creators whitelist a share of ads that allegedly follow “acceptable” advertising practices. However, some ad blockers offer whitelisting services for advertisers in exchange for a payment or a cut from their ad revenue.

Why Do You Need an Ad Blocker and What Benefits Does it Offer?

An ad blocker is a must-have for those who want to enjoy an advertisement-free experience in the digital space.

Ad blockers offer the following benefits to users:

  • Improved user experience: Users can achieve a distraction-and intrusion-free experience on the internet by using an ad blocker to eliminate advertisements. As a result, they can conveniently browse the web or use their favorite apps without worrying about getting bombarded by advertisers’ offers.
  • Enhanced security and privacy: Most ad blockers have built-in features to detect, spot, and block malicious and fraudulent ads on the internet. In addition to eliminating malvertising, users can also enjoy increased privacy by disabling web trackers. Furthermore, ad blocking is an excellent way to protect children from inappropriate advertisements on the web.
  • Faster page load times: Ad blockers can improve browsing speed and application performance by getting rid of bloated and unoptimized ads. While users have access to a more seamless experience, businesses can also benefit from the lower bounce rates achieved via faster page load times.
  • Optimized battery life and mobile data usage: As ads take a heavy toll on device batteries, preventing them from loading can save energy and achieve better runtimes. The lack of ads can also reduce the mobile data usage of consumers.
  • Potential savings on impulse shopping: By eliminating ads, the number of offers internet users encounter will significantly decrease. They can take advantage of this to reduce their unnecessary expenses, refrain from impulse purchases, increase their savings, and limit their chances of getting targeted by fraudulent companies.

What Are the Possible Downsides and Limitations of Ad Blocking?

As with every software, ad blockers have some limitations and downsides, such as:

  • Broken content: Since ad blockers disable all advertising and tracking-related content of a website, it can lead to an unwanted experience on some occasions. When the app blocks an important request, the site may display broken content to the user.
  • Inability to access content: As some publishers still utilize ad block walls, refusing to disable ad blocking software can prevent users from accessing certain apps and websites.
  • Can’t block all ads: Unfortunately, although they can block most advertisements, ad blockers can’t provide a fully ad-free experience to users. Furthermore, the number of unblocked advertisements increases for ad blockers that adopt the whitelisting business model.
  • Lack of support for content creators: Some content creators use digital advertising exclusively to monetize their solutions. Using an ad blocker without whitelisting them could reduce their revenue and limit their growth.

How Does Ad Blocking Impact Publishers and Advertisers?

According to Statista, ad blocking penetration was expected to surge from 2014’s 15.7% to 27% by 2021 in the United States.

In fact, ad blocking solutions were adopted much faster, with the technology’s penetration reaching 27% by February 2018 among US users.

Since many users are blocking ads on their devices, it has a major impact on advertising networks and businesses.

The good news for advertisers is that they don’t have to pay a dime for advertisements targeting ad block users (as they don’t get shown at all).

However, as a significant share of consumers have opted out of receiving ads from advertisers on the internet, this also means that businesses have a smaller audience to target.

At the same time, publishers are hit harder by ad blocking tech as a part of their visitors won’t interact with the ads displayed on their platforms, causing a revenue loss for the firms.

However, ad blocking impacts giant digital advertising networks (e.g., Facebook Ads, Google Ads) the most.

The more users install ad blockers, the fewer impressions and interactions advertisements get, decreasing the revenue networks make by connecting publishers and advertisers.

Countermeasures From Publishers

As ad blocking means a significant threat to the digital advertising industry’s current state, many publishers and networks have decided to take steps against ad blocker solutions.

One of the most popular ways publishers have used to reclaim their lost revenue is automatically detecting ad blockers upon user website visits.

When an ad blocker is detected, a publisher may decide to display a message to the user to convince him to disable the software.

However, others have taken a more harsh stance by installing an ad block wall that denies access to the site’s content until the user disables its ad blocking software.

While the latter method seemed to work initially, researchers discovered that 74% of users would leave a website with an ad block wall set up.

Due to these methods’ lack of success, businesses have joined initiatives like Acceptable Ads and the Coalition for Better Ads that require both publishers and advertisers to apply a variety of pro-consumer and user-friendly digital advertising standards.

By showing only heavily optimized ads to users, publishers of these initiatives can get their advertisements whitelisted as ad blockers participating in the programs.

What Are the Best Methods to Block Ads?

In this section, we have collected the best methods you can use to block ads in the digital world.

Let’s see them!

1. Browser Extensions

Examples: uBlock Origin, Adblock Plus, AdBlock

One of the most popular ways to block ads is by installing the software via a browser extension.

Here, the user visits its browser’s add-on store and sets up the ad blocker as a free extension.

Upon successful installation, the ad block browser extension will screen content for trackers, advertisements, and malware. After applying the filter lists, the ad blocker tells the browser whether to allow or disable an element.

Based on the rules the solution uses, it can leave whitespace where the ad would be normally displayed, replace it with other content, or just simply hide the element.

As a result, users can get rid of most ads while surfing the web via the browser where the ad blocker extension is installed.

On the other hand, since it’s a browser extension, the ad blocker doesn’t have access and can’t block unwanted content in other apps installed on the device.

2. Ad Block Browsers

Examples: Opera, Brave, Firefox Focus

Ad block browsers are internet browsers with built-in ad blocking capabilities.

They work very similarly to ad block browser extensions as they can effectively disable advertisements on the web.

While users don’t have to worry much about installing an extension to eliminate ads, browsers with built-in ad blocking features are often well-optimized and feature better performance than extensions.

It’s also important to mention privacy browsers. Instead of blocking ads, these solutions disable web trackers to ensure a high privacy level for users.

3. Mobile Ad Blockers

Examples: Wipr, 1Blocker, Blokada, AdAway

According to Statcounter, mobile devices have accounted for 55.73% of the internet traffic compared to desktop’s 41.46% in December 2020.

With smartphone devices taking the lead, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that mobile ad blocking has become popular among users.

In fact, while desktop was standing at 236 million, active mobile ad block users have grown to 527 million by Q4 2019, according to PageFair’s 2020 AdBlock Report.

In addition to the web, mobile users encounter many ads within the apps they have installed on their devices.

For that reason, they can install an ad blocker for iOS or Android to disable ads both on the web and in applications.

As a side note, since browsers do not support extensions on some mobile devices, ad block browsers have become increasingly popular on smartphones.

If you want to learn more about mobile ad blocking, we recommend taking a look at the following Permission.io articles where we compared the best iOS and Android ad blockers.

4. Cross-Device Ad Blockers

Examples: AdGuard, NextDNS

Some ad blocking solutions offer protection against advertisements across multiple devices.

As a result, users can access apps and browser extensions on desktops, tablets, and smartphones to get rid of unwanted content with a single solution.

With a package of apps and browser extensions, cross-device ad blockers utilize various methods to eliminate advertisements.

On the flip side, cross-device ad blocking support is often a paid service without the option to access the service for free.

5. DNS Filtering

Examples: AdGuard DNS, DNSCloak

An effective method to block advertisements is via DNS filtering.

DNS stands for the Domain Name System that is responsible for matching domain names with IP addresses, allowing users to access content on the web without remembering the technical details and a confusing list of numbers.

The process works similarly to calling a friend. Instead of memorizing his number every time, you have it saved in your smartphone contacts so you can call him with a single tap. This is the exact reason why the DNS is often referred to as the “address book” of the internet.

With DNS filtering, the user connects to a DNS server configured to block access to either IP addresses or domain names seeking to display ads to the user. In addition to advertisements, DNS filtering also protects users from web trackers and malicious content.

When an app or a website sends an unwanted request, the modified DNS server refuses to reply with an IP address and instead sends a null response.

Similarly to browser extension-based ad blockers, the DNS filtering method also uses blocklists to identify and disable undesirable content. For that reason, the service provider must update the filter lists often to prevent advertisers from bypassing the DNS server.

Since DNS filtering blocks all unwanted requests coming from the web, this method can effectively provide system-wide protection against ads to internet users.

6. VPN

Examples: NordVPN, Surfshark

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are popular tools that allow users to disguise their online identity and encrypt their internet traffic.

To achieve that, the network redirects the user’s IP address through a configured remote server operated by a VPN host.

As a result, the VPN server becomes the source of the user’s data, helping to hide the data he or she sends or receives online from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other third-parties.

Since VPNs allow users to connect to servers in numerous countries and locations, they can use such solutions to bypass geo-blocks and access regional content on the web.

In addition to all the above, multiple VPN solutions feature built-in ad blocking to eliminate malware, trackers, and online advertisements.

While this method works similarly to DNS filtering, VPN ad blockers offer a one-stop solution to eliminating unwanted content and in apps across all devices connected to the user’s network.

However, for ad blocking to work, the user’s devices have to be continuously connected to the VPN network.

For that reason, it’s essential to test the performance of the VPN solution to avoid traffic-related issues and ensure a seamless user experience.

7. Hardware Devices

Examples: Pi-Hole

In the above sections, we have introduced software-based solutions to block advertisements on the web and in applications.

Now let’s examine a method that uses a hardware device for the same purpose.

Currently, the only viable hardware ad blocker on the market is called the Pi-Hole, which uses a Raspberry Pi to block advertisements on the network level.

For that, users have to configure the Raspberry Pi as a Pi-Hole, setting up a local DNS server that filters all content coming through the network and disables requests related to malware, advertisements, or web tracking.

Interestingly, the Pi-Hole replaces any pre-existing DNS server (including the ISP’s) on the user’s network with its own, allowing the device to block ads on devices like smart TVs that software-based ad blockers normally can’t reach.

While Pi-Hole is a free and open-source ad blocking solution, users have to purchase the necessary kit (e.g., a Raspberry Pi or another compatible device) to protect their networks against advertisements.

Also, as users have to manually configure the device to set up a Pi Hole, they have to possess at least minimal technical knowledge.

In terms of ad blocking, Pi Hole’s protection against unwanted content only works when the user is connected to his home private network (or the location where the device is installed to block ads).

Ad Blocking: The Key to a Distraction-Free Internet

Ad blocking is an excellent way to disable annoying advertisements, intrusive trackers, and malicious content. As a result of ad blocking, you can have a seamless, distraction-free experience while browsing the web or using your favorite apps on your device.

Additionally, ad blockers also improve your device’s performance, enhance your privacy and security, as well as limit your data and battery usage.

With that said, consider supporting your favorite content creators by whitelisting their advertisements via such an ad blocking solution.

An Alternative Solution to Preserving Privacy and Security

Meet Permission.io, the next-generation, blockchain-powered advertising platform that allows users to decide whether and how businesses can interact with their data and target them with ads.

In exchange for consenting to view an ad (which involves volunteering their time and data), users get rewarded in ASK cryptocurrency for engaging with advertisers and participating in their campaigns on Permission.io.

Users are free to hold, transfer, exchange, or spend their ASK rewards directly at Permission.io’s Shop & Earn store. Instead of forcing people to view their offers, advertisers on the Permission.io platform display relevant, personalized content exclusively to users who have given their permission to do so.

As a result, advertisers will experience increased engagement and ROI while building fruitful, long-term relationships with a loyal customer base.

Oh, and have we mentioned that users will receive 100 ASK for simply downloading the Permission Browser Extension and creating an account on Permission.io?

Create an account at Permission.io!

About the Author
Benjamin Vitáris is a freelance content writer for Permission.io. He has a keen interest in a wide range of business and technology topics, including cryptocurrency, blockchain, fintech, ecommerce, digital marketing, privacy, and cybersecurity. Benjamin has been working with several fast-growing tech and finance companies, such as Bitcoin.com, CCN.com, CEX.IO, AAX, DEVAR, Adv.Cake, STICPAY, and Bitaccess.
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