How to Remove Advertisements from Websites
Web users divide online advertisements into two types:
- Good advertisements: those which are available only to people who actively want to see them, like the classified ads in the old Yellow Pages.
- Bad advertisements: those which are forced onto people’s computer monitors without permission.
Unsolicited Advertisements are Annoying
Surveys show that most web users very much dislike most types of unsolicited advertisements on websites. There are several reasons for this:
- Unwanted advertisements are considered to be intrusive.
- They can be difficult or impossible to skip past, especially on mobiles.
- They are often unrelated to the material on the web page.
- They can be a real nuisance if you have a slow internet connection or an old computer, or if you need to conserve your mobile phone’s battery.
- In effect, they are a form of junk mail that the victim has to pay for, a particular problem for those on limited mobile internet tariffs.
- They have been known to contain malicious software. Even reputable websites such as bbc.co.uk and nytimes.com have unwittingly hosted malicious advertisements (see here and here).
The majority of print and television advertisements are also unwanted, but they are less strongly resisted than their online equivalents, perhaps because they are easier to ignore.
Advertisements are Easy to Eliminate
Fortunately, it is a simple task to configure web browser software to remove almost all advertisements from any website. There are two basic methods:
- Eliminate the source of the advertisements by using an adblocker.
- Disable the mechanism that puts adverts onto a page by using a script blocker.
Yes, you too can say goodbye to unwanted advert misery!
1: Eliminate the Source: Use an Adblocker
Most advertisements are hosted on web servers other than the servers on which the web pages themselves are hosted. You can prevent these web servers sending their advertisements to your computer by using adblock software.
(Technical note: adblockers actually make use of the difference between domains, not servers. For example, a web page from the domain www.theguardian.com might include adverts from the domain www.some–advertising–company.com. An adblocker will block files from the advertiser’s domain while allowing files from the domain of the web page you are visiting.)
Adblockers Give You a Choice
It’s worth pointing out that all decent ad–blocking software will allow the user to tweak the settings, usually with just a couple of clicks, in order to permit adverts on specified websites. If you are not bothered by unobtrusive adverts, you may want to allow adverts by default and only block those you find annoying. If you want to support a particular website, you will be able to disable adblocking for that website.
Adblockers are more Popular than Advertisements
More and more people are choosing a largely advert–free web, according to a variety of surveys:
- The use of adblockers on mobile phones in the UK increased from 16% in 2014 to 38% in 2018.
- Overall, the use of adblockers increased by 30% in 2016.
- According to the New York Times in 2017, the use of adblockers “in countries like Indonesia has already reached roughly two–thirds of the internet population.”
- Around 40% of laptop users in the USA browse the web using an adblocker, although the same survey shows that only 15% of US mobiles benefitted from an adblocker. From the same New York Times report: “In the U.S., ad–blocking on mobile is slightly immature … but there’s no doubt that people’s use of it will skyrocket.”
Most of the people who do not yet use an adblocker are probably unaware of their existence (in 2017, only 63% of online Australians were aware of adblockers), or perhaps think that you need to be a technical genius to install one. In fact, you can install an adblocker with just a few clicks, and sometimes you don’t even need to do that.
Some web browsers have an adblocker built in:
- Brave: find out more at https://brave.com/.
- Maxthon: find out more at http://www.maxthon.com/.
- Opera: find out more at https://www.opera.com/.
The most effective adblocker is uBlock Origin. It is able to block not only online advertisements but much else besides, such as trackers and web fonts. It claims to be quicker, and to use less memory, than other adblockers. It is available for the following browsers:
- Firefox: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-GB/firefox/addon/ublock-origin/.
- Chrome and Chromium: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/ublock–origin/cjpalhdlnbpafiamejdnhcphjbkeiagm.
- Edge: https://www.microsoft.com/en–gb/p/ublock–origin/9nblggh444l4.
- Opera: https://addons.opera.com/en–gb/extensions/details/ublock/. Although Opera has a built–in adblocker, it doesn’t do any harm to install a second, more effective, one.
- Pale Moon: https://addons.palemoon.org/addon/ublock0–updater/.
- Safari: https://github.com/el1t/uBlock–Safari#ublock–originfor–safari. The installation method for Safari is currently rather technical, but things may have improved by the time you read this.
Installing uBlock Origin is very straightforward for all the browsers mentioned above apart from Safari. It takes less than a minute, and there is no need to alter the program’s default settings, which will be fine for most users.
UBlock Origin may become available for other browsers in the future. For the latest news, see the uBlock Origin website. Be aware that uBlock Origin is not associated with the website ublock.org.
If you are interested in exploring some of uBlock Origin’s other features, check out these guides:
There are many other adblock add–ons, some of which are not what they seem. These three appear to be reliable and safe:
- AdBlock Plus: works with all major browsers, including mobiles; easy to install on Safari; by default, it permits some unintrusive adverts, but this can be over–ridden. Download from https://adblockplus.org/.
- Ghostery: available for pretty much all browsers; able to block trackers as well as advertisements. Download from https://www.ghostery.com/.
- Simple Adblock: for Internet Explorer only. Download from http://simple–adblock.com/.
2: Disable the Mechanism: Use NoScript
NoScript is currently only available for:
- Firefox and other Mozilla–based browsers, such as SeaMonkey: Download from https://addons.mozilla.org/en–GB/firefox/addon/noscript/.
- Chrome and Chromium: Download from https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/noscript/doojmbjmlfjjnbmnoijecmcbfeoakpjm.
- Tor: NoScript is included in the privacy–conscious Tor browser; see https://www.torproject.org/.
Alternatives to NoScript
A similar script blocker, Script Safe, is available for:
- Firefox: Download from https://addons.mozilla.org/en–GB/firefox/addon/script–safe/.
- Chrome: Download from https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/scriptsafe/oiigbmnaadbkfbmpbfijlflahbdbdgdf?hl=en.
- Opera: Download from https://addons.opera.com/en–gb/extensions/details/scriptsafe–2/.
An alternative for Safari users is JS Blocker. Download from https://jsblocker.toggleable.com/.
Versatility of NoScript
NoScript allows you to easily over–ride its default settings and permit certain scripts on specific websites, either temporarily or permanently, with just a couple of clicks.
Security Benefits of NoScript
Some Advertisements Will Get Through
By combining a script blocker such as NoScript with an adblocker, you will get rid of almost all unwanted online advertisements.
These methods cannot, however, eliminate every single advertisement. If an advertisement is incorporated into a web page in the same way as any other piece of text (as in this example), there is nothing you can do to remove it. But adding advertisements in this way is labour–intensive, and is used with only a tiny fraction of online advertisements. Almost all adverts are vulnerable to the methods described above.
Advertisements can get past adblockers for other reasons, such as when Google tried to implement a limited form of ad–blocking on its Chrome browser, presumably with the intention of halting the use of comprehensive adblockers such as uBlock Origin. Some adverts were blocked, but, through a stroke of luck, Google’s own adverts managed to get through. Phew! Of course, the increasing use of adblockers is a huge threat to Google, whose business model is very largely dependent on selling online advertising. At the time of writing (2019), there are signs that Google may try to stop adblockers working on Chrome, although the proposed change is very unpopular with users and other browser manufacturers, and would probably lead to an increase in people using browsers other than Chrome, a development which would also harm Google’s business.
If Adverts are Eliminated, Who Loses?
There are lots of pros, but very few cons:
- Purveyors of malicious software will get fewer victims.
- Some tech companies would go out of business if the number of people subjected to online advertisements were to be substantially reduced. 87% of Google’ annual revenue and around 96% of Facebook’s comes from selling web users’ data to online advertisers. Of course, not everyone would see this outcome as an entirely bad thing.
- Advertisers will lose, but not by much. Unwanted, speculative advertisements have a much lower success rate online than in print or on television. The average click–through rate for display advertisements is less than half of one percent. In other words, fewer than one in two hundred website visitors will actually go to the bother of clicking an advert in order to visit the advertiser’s website. The main problem is not that the advertisements are not relevant to the page on which they appear, but that most of the people who see adverts don’t really see them; they are so accustomed to avoiding adverts that anything which looks remotely like an advert usually gets ignored.
- Website owners who host advertisements won’t lose much either. The low click–through rates, combined with typical rewards of just a few pence or cents per click, mean that revenues for non–classified advertising are poor. Because intrusive advertising often causes visitors to leave a website, the widespread use of adblockers may well benefit the website’s owner by increasing the number of pages viewed on each visit. Any website containing genuinely informative material should be able to persuade its more dedicated and sympathetic visitors, the ones who are most likely to click on relevant and unobtrusive adverts, to disable their adblockers.