What Is an Ad Blocker?

Ad blockers can help you avoid unwanted distractions while browsing the web. See how they can help you.
Andrew Adams, Author
Steph Trejos, Editor
Last updated Nov 1, 2022

You can’t go very far in your day before you see an advertisement, whether you’re driving on the freeway, browsing the internet, or watching your favorite TV show. And although it’s hard to erase billboards on your morning drive, you can remove ads from your internet browsing experience.

Ad blockers are a type of software, usually a browser extension, that removes online advertisements from websites you’re visiting. These content blockers can improve your browsing experience by eliminating those intrusive ads on a variety of sites.

Besides avoiding marketing tactics, an ad blocker can lower the amount of data you use while browsing and minimize distractions. If you’re inundated with Facebook ads or are sick of pop-up and banner ads, you may benefit from an ad blocker. So how do ad blockers work and do you need one? Let’s take a look.

In this article
How do ad blockers work?
Pros of using an ad blocker
Less internet usage
Minimize malware and phishing
Safer browsing experience
Ad-blocking software options
Browser extensions
Built-in browser ad blockers
VPNs
Ad blockers for mobile devices
Ad blocker FAQs
Bottom line

How do ad blockers work?

There are several different types of ad-blocking software, but they all work in a similar way. When visiting a website, the ad blocker scans as it loads and looks for any elements on the website that the blocker identifies as an ad.

Some websites use proprietary ad servers, which can make them difficult to identify by an ad blocker. Ad blockers identify these native ad platforms by looking for specific CSS elements and then changing the CSS rules to not display the ads contained in those elements.

With an effective ad blocker, the user will not see any advertisement that the ad-blocking software identifies. Ad blockers can remove display ads on websites, along with pop-up ads and other unwanted ads. If you’re annoyed about auto-play video ads when you land on a website, a good ad blocker can also remove these from your browsing experience.

Along with blocking ads, ad blockers can also minimize or stop ad-tracking tools, which help companies with analytics, metrics, and more. Blocking these trackers can also help minimize future ads.

Pros of using an ad blocker

There are many benefits to using an ad blocker to streamline your browsing experience. Here are a few positive effects of using an ad blocker.

Less internet usage

Every ad in your browser requires data to load. By using an ad blocker, you can minimize the amount of unnecessary data being used when surfing the web and increase your page loading times. If you have a data cap or are using a mobile data plan, this can help minimize any overages.

Minimize malware and phishing

Display ads on websites are an easy way for scammers to get you to click on an unsafe link unsuspectingly. By blocking ads, those links are less likely to make it to your browser.

Safer browsing experience

Another benefit to using an ad blocker is a safer browsing experience for younger users. Although display ads on websites are vetted by Google or other ad companies, it doesn’t mean they’re appropriate for all audiences. If you’re worried about the content your kids or others may see while browsing online, blocking ads is one way to alleviate that concern.

Ad-blocking software options

There are several different options if you’re looking to block ads while browsing the web. There are browser extensions, virtual private networks (VPNs), and other blocking software that can help you. Some web browsers have minimal ad-blocking technology built in as well.

Browser extensions

Browser extensions are one solution if you’re looking for an ad blocker. However, the efficiency of the ad blocker extension depends on the browser. Google Chrome is less welcoming to ad blockers, whereas Mozilla Firefox allows browser extensions to block ads more effectively.

Safari does not have a built-in ad blocker, but there are options to help users avoid unwanted ads while using Safari. With Safari, you can block pop-up ads with the browser but other ad-blocking needs must be met with a third-party extension. To download an ad blocker for Safari, you will need to download the extension from the Mac app store.

Browser extensions like AdBlock are one of the most popular solutions for blocking ads on web pages but not for any other application. However, a browser extension can help you block Hulu ads and other pesky intruders.

AdBlock Plus

Some browser extensions, like AdBlock Plus, limit ads that are deemed intrusive but they allow ads that meet the company’s acceptable ads policy. AdBlock Plus uses this policy to help bridge the gap between advertisers and consumers. It is still possible to block all ads with AdBlock Plus.

AdBlock Plus also allows companies and advertisers to pay a fee to be “whitelisted.” These companies apply for the distinction and must show certain criteria for their ads. Some of those criteria are that the advertisements must be appropriate for the site and they must not distract or take away from the website. AdBlock Plus’ parent company may also charge companies a fee for getting on the list. There are more than 300 companies that have been whitelisted on AdBlock Plus’ software.

uBlock Origin

Another browser extension is uBlock Origin. uBlock is a free and open-source ad blocker available for most internet browsers, such as Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Edge, and more.

Built-in browser ad blockers

Some internet browsers include some sort of ad-blocking functionality. Built-in ad blockers may limit the ads you see based on a set of guidelines. For example, Google Chrome limits the number of ads users see to improve the overall user experience. Although Chrome blocks ads that are intrusive or annoying to consumers, it does not block all ads.

Here are a few browsers that have built-in ad blockers:

VPNs

Another option for blocking ads is to use a VPN. A VPN doesn’t automatically block ads but many VPNs offer an ad-blocking service to help protect user privacy. For a VPN ad blocker to work, you must be connected to the VPN during browsing. VPNs can also protect your personal data while you’re browsing.

Ad blockers for mobile devices

Just like ad blockers for your desktop device, mobile devices can also have ad blockers to reduce the ads you see. Similar to their use on a desktop, there are downloadable apps for Apple and Android that can limit the number of ads seen. Built-in ad blocking, or limiting as with Chrome, is available on mobile devices too.

Ad blocker FAQs


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How do I turn off an ad blocker?

Turning off an ad blocker depends on the kind of ad blocker you’re using. If you’ve downloaded an ad blocker, you can disable the software in the specific app. You can also turn off an in-browser ad blocker in the individual browser’s settings.

For Chrome, follow these instructions:

  1. Select the three dots at the top right and select Settings.
  2. On the left sidebar, find Privacy and security, then select Site settings.
  3. Click on Additional content settings.
  4. Choose Ads.
  5. Finally, turn off Block ads on sites that show intrusive or misleading ads.

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How many people use ad blockers?

According to Insider Intelligence, about 40% of internet users in the U.S. use an ad blocker.


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Are ad blockers illegal?

Ad blockers are not illegal, but in some cases, they can have repercussions for consumers. Many websites use ad revenue to provide services to consumers. Using an ad blocker can result in less revenue for your favorite websites, which could eventually lead to them charging or putting items behind a paywall.

Bottom line

There are many different types of ad blockers, which help minimize the number and types of ads you may encounter while browsing the internet. Whether you’re using an ad limiter, such as the one provided in Google Chrome, or you’ve purchased ad-blocking software, you will see fewer ads that typically annoy consumers. However, ad blockers are not able to block all ads. If you’re streaming shows or watching YouTube, those embedded ads aren’t always avoidable.

An ad blocker can help streamline your browsing experience, keep you safer, and keep annoying ads away. However, blocking ads can affect the revenue of the websites you visit often so in some cases, it may be better to disable ad blocking when visiting reputable sites that you support.

Author Details
Andrew Adams
Andrew Strom Adams helps businesses with a variety of marketing and communication efforts including content strategy and writing, branding, marketing, and more. He holds an MBA from Westminster College in Salt Lake City and a bachelor's degree in Journalism from Oklahoma Baptist University.