The Great Ad Block Battle!

So, recently a reader of mine asked, on my earlier post Privacy Tools: Ghostery vs. Adblock Plus, which was the best of these two. Plus, she wanted to know what the differences between each one were.

I thought this would be a good opportunity to do a comparison of not only those two extensions, but several others as well. While, in theory, all ad-blockers would do the same thing, this is definitely not true.

For example, Adblock Plus works by using “filter lists,” which are essentially a set of rules that tell it what to filter and what not to filter. Here’s one filter list that comes to mind: FilterLists.

filterlists

If you visit the site, you’ll see specific examples of domains and types of ads that are blocked, such as banner ads, adult site ads, tracking by ad agencies, and malware domains. The downside to this is that it may end up slowing down your browser (which can happen with any ad blocker that you use).

Several of the other popular blockers also use filter lists to determine what domains to block as well.

Ghostery

ghostery_logo

Just to clarify, Ghostery is a company that has designed several different types of privacy software. The one in question, in this case, is the Ghostery Browser Extension. Ghostery, as opposed to AdBlock Plus, monitors the various webservers (in this case, trackers) that are being called by a given webpage, and gives you the option to block or allow any one of them.

It also gives you the option to “trust” or “restrict” any site that you use (or are directed to) on the web. The idea behind this, as you may have guessed, is to try to filter out malicious sites, and only allow ones that you accept.

ghostery_trackers

In addition, if you wish, you have the option of mapping the trackers through Evidon, which I assume is an affiliate of theirs. This, however, is a paid service.

Other Privacy Extensions

ublock_origin_element_picker

AdBlock Plus and Ghostery are far from the only ad-blocking browser extensions available. Several other popular alternatives are uBlock Origin, Privacy Badger, and AdBlock Fast.

A few of these are a bit more complex than AdBlock Plus and Ghostery, but it all depends on what functions you need.

In the screenshot above, uBlock Origin is active, and its “element picker” function is being used, meaning that you can highlight specific parts of a webpage (for example, an ad) and analyze the actual code to see if there’s anything malicious to be concerned about.

ublock_origin_element_code

When you select a certain element, if you believe it to be malevolent, you can permanently “remove” that element so that it won’t attack you in any way. This gives you far more control over which elements to block and which to leave alone, which probably appeals more to the tech-savvy crowd than an extension that does all of this automatically.

Privacy Badger, on the other hand, also blocks trackers, but does so in a more automated way. The extension tries to detect all the different trackers (or domains that are being linked to) on a page, and then determines whether or not they are tracking you in some way, as below:

privacy_badger_trackers

If the sliders next to the domain names are colored green, this means that they appear not to be tracking you. However, if you think that they are, you can move the slider to yellow (which blocks cookies from that domain), or red (which blocks the domain altogether).

In addition, Privacy Badger gives you the option to “whitelist”different domain names that you trust, so that it knows not to block elements on that particular site:

privacy_badger_whitelist

One aspect of Privacy Badger that some may see as a disadvantage is its automated features, which may seem too “hands-off” for users who like to know what’s going on within the extension. It’s possible that P.B. may not catch all of the trackers on a page, or may miss other malicious elements.

On the other hand, it is a user-friendly way to block trackers on any webpage, and isn’t overly complicated.

Finally, there’s Adblock Fast, who describe themselves as “the world’s fastest ad blocker.”

adblockfast-600

One of the reasons for this is that AF uses far fewer filtering rules than most other ad blockers, and thus it is quicker to launch. Also, compared to the other ad blockers we’ve discussed, it’s extremely simple.

You merely have to click the extension to turn ad blocking on or off on a particular page. There’s no element selecting, domain whitelisting, or tracker lists. For those of you who like your technology simple and to the point, I would recommend Adblock Fast as your ad blocker.

On the downside, it gives you very little control over what and how it blocks, so as I said before, if you’re more hands-on, something like uBlock Origin might be your cup of tea.

Any of these can be helpful; it’s really just a matter of preference and comfort…sort of like coffee flavors.

Speaking of which…I could really use a cup right now.

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4 thoughts on “The Great Ad Block Battle!

    1. Expected result: The first task on every work day will fail as the nightly garbage collector empties the cup. Debugging will take 15 years and 8 managers.

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