As the internet has become increasingly commercialized, advertising has become a fact of online life. Ranging from barely noticeable to intrusive and down-right disruptive, ads can quickly drain away any enjoyment you get out of a website. Unfortunately, online advertisement is here to stay, so we’ve put together this list of the eight best ad blockers to help you banish them yourself.
Our number-one pick (both overall and for Android) — AdGuard — runs on your desktop and blocks ads in all your apps. You have to pay to use it, though, whereas the next two entries on our list — uBlock Origin and AdBlock — are both free browser extensions and our picks for the best ad blocker for Firefox and Google Chrome, respectively.
Next up are Windscribe’s R.O.B.E.R.T and NordVPN’s Cybersec, both of which are great options if you’re also in the market for a VPN. Finally, AdLock — another option for device-wide ad blocking — brings up the rear together with the built-in ad blockers for Opera, Firefox and Safari.
List of the Top Ad Blockers of 2019
If you’re willing to fork over a little bit of cash to improve your online experience, then AdGuard is hands down your best bet when choosing an ad blocker. Unlike most similar services, AdGuard isn’t an ad-block extension but rather a desktop app.
Instead of just blocking the ads on the websites you visit, it blocks them throughout your system, whether they are in your browser, Skype, your torrent client or anything else.
This ubiquity sets it apart from other entries on this list and is a huge bonus, especially if you use a lot of software that relies on advertisements, as these can often be far more annoying (and more difficult to get rid of) than traditional website advertising. It’s also very easy to customize and adjust your settings in AdGuard, as the whole thing is packaged in a neat and tidy interface.
Furthermore, AdGuard flies completely under the radar. After extensive testing, we were able to visit all sorts of websites that employ a ban on ad blockers, with none of them ever being the wiser that we were visiting their websites without having to deal with their ads.
If your browser doesn’t have safe browsing by default, you can make AdGuard do the heavy lifting and block websites known to contain malware or phishing schemes.
There’s a whole bunch of privacy protections included with AdGuard under the service’s aptly named “stealth mode.” You can hide what search term brought you to a website, mask what browser you’re using from Google itself and even block URL tracking parameters.
You can also set up a timer for deletion of both third- and first-party cookies, as well as block WebRTC, notifications, websites accessing your location, Flash and Java. Finally, HTTP referrals can be disabled, and AdGuard can also mask your IP address and user agent.
In terms of pricing, AdGuard probably won’t break the bank, as a year-long subscription will run you $2.49 per month. There’s a 14-day trial period for you to test it out and decide if you like it, and even if you end up paying for a subscription, you can get a full refund within 60 days of your purchase. The license covers three separate devices, and there’s also an option to pay a one-time fee of $59.99.
If you’re not interested in blocking ads system-wide, but rather just want a clean browsing experience, then uBlock Origin is the choice for you.
Unlike AdGuard, uBlock exists solely as a browser extension and thus only functions for ads shown on actual websites through your web browser. Nevertheless, it performs well at this task, earning it a spot on our list of the best browser security extensions.
uBlock employs an impressive filter list, and out of every ad blocker we tested, it identified the largest number of ads and trackers by a fairly large margin, even outperforming the paid options on this list. It also manages to circumvent ad-block bans, which means you won’t have to routinely disable it in order to visit your favorite ad-riddled website.
uBlock is also incredibly lightweight, using far less of your system resources than other ad-blocking Chrome extensions. Unfortunately, the design of the dashboard makes it feel like it’s straight out of the 1990s, but if you’re able to ignore the frankly ugly UI, there’s a huge number of settings and extra protections you can tweak.
On the privacy side of things, you can disable WebRTC, preventing it from leaking your IP address, as well as turn off HTTP referrals, CSP reports and prefetch requests. There’s also a filter lists menu that gives you an overview of all the different ad filters you can enable.
Alongside uBlock, AdBlock is the other giant in the world of ad blocking. The name is a bit confusing, as it is not to be confused with AdBlock Pro or AdBlock Plus, which are totally separate extensions that have nothing to do with each other.
AdBlock is available as an extension for both Firefox and Google Chrome (and thus most Chromium-based browsers, such as Vivaldi or Brave) and, for the most part, functions the same way in either browser. Although it doesn’t block quite as many ads and tracking requests as uBlock does, it sports a much cleaner and easier-to-understand interface.
On Chrome, it also comes with the option to block ads in Twitch livestreams, which is something most ad blockers are unable to do. You can also set up a whitelist of YouTube channels to ensure that your favorite content creators still make some money from your views. In a similar vein, you can allow “acceptable ads,” which lets certain non-intrusive ads to pass.
AdBlock also offers some minor privacy protections through EasyPrivacy, which, in simple terms, blocks websites from finding out where you are physically, what website you came from and your IP address. Unfortunately, it uses a bit more RAM than uBlock does, but if you’re using Google Chrome, then RAM consumption probably isn’t too high on your list of concerns anyway.
CyberSec is an ad blocker that comes included with NordVPN, and if you want a full rundown of its features, then head over to our NordVPN review. It’s also one of our top picks for the best VPN provider, so it’s definitely worth considering if you’re in the market for a virtual private network.
NordVPN does not offer any statistics on how much CyberSec is blocking for you, making it hard to get empirical results on its performance. Regardless, it seemed to do a good enough job of blocking ads, as we couldn’t see any during our testing. CyberSec also manages to hide itself, meaning you won’t be prompted to “disable your ad blocker” when visiting certain websites.
One problem with CyberSec (which is shared by R.O.B.E.R.T, our next entry) is that you need to be connected to a VPN server for it to work. If you prefer to be constantly connected to a VPN, this isn’t a problem, but most users will still want to block ads when they’re going through their regular connection, which would require a separate extension.
Windscribe is a VPN provider that topped our list of the best free VPN services. If you want to learn about the service as a whole, you can head over to our Windscribe review, but here we’ll be looking exclusively at the built-in ad-blocking system that comes with the service named R.O.B.E.R.T.
Because Windscribe doesn’t offer up any statistics — much like NordVPN’s CyberSec — it’s hard to say exactly how effective R.O.B.E.R.T is at blocking ads, but in our tests, it seemed to do well enough.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t manage to hide its activity from websites that look for it, which means that a good portion of news outlets, for example, will block you from reading their content without first disabling Windscribe.
Besides ads, R.O.B.E.R.T also blocks trackers, social media elements and malware. It also provides some privacy protections by blocking WebRTC, location leaks and time-zone information, as well as letting you routinely refresh your user agent to hide your identity.
Looking through the Firefox settings, you won’t be able to see the phrase “ad blocker,” but there is nonetheless one built into the browser. Instead of calling its system an ad blocker, per se, Firefox opts for the term “tracking protection.”
Although it doesn’t block as many requests as a dedicated ad blocker, it still does a pretty decent job and also manages to hide itself from ad-block detection scripts.
If you’re looking for more information about the browser, check out our Firefox review for the complete rundown.
AdLock is another device-wide ad blocker in the vein of our number-one pick, AdGuard. Unfortunately, although AdLock did a decent job blocking ads, it detected and blocked far fewer requests than AdGuard did.
It’s also quite a bit more expensive, with a one-year license sporting a price tag of $36, which covers six separate devices. You’re also given the option of paying $90 for the same license, but this time for life.
There’s a two-week trial to let you decide if you like the service and a 30-day money back guarantee, in case it doesn’t live up to your expectations. There’s also nothing in the way of more advanced privacy protections, such as WebRTC-blocking or IP protection, which is another reason why AdLock is so far down the list, compared to its competitors.
Opera’s built-in ad blocker is decent at blocking ads, but it’s hard to tell exactly how it lines up against our other picks, as the browser does not provide any sort of statistics on how many ads it has managed to block. Although it seemed to do well enough — we didn’t see a lot of ads while it was running — Opera has a big problem with masking its ad blocker from websites.
As far as we can tell, pretty much every website that employs ad-blocking detection picked up on the fact that we were blocking ads with Opera, which locked us out of many different webpages. This is a huge problem for an ad blocker and the main reason why Opera is all the way toward the bottom of this list.
Opera also doesn’t block ads on Facebook, which makes us think it made some sort of deal with the platform to display its ads, which isn’t exactly a good look for an ad-blocking feature. To learn more about the browser as a whole, make sure to read our Opera review.
Best Free Ad Blocker: uBlock Origin
We already covered uBlock Origin in depth further up in this article, so we won’t bother repeating ourselves here. Suffice it to say, uBlock is a top-notch ad blocker, and the fact that it’s completely free is just icing on the cake. If paying money to block ads is something you’re unwilling to do, then uBlock is your best option.
Another option you may want to check out is AdBlocker Ultimate, which comes as both a Firefox and a Chrome extension.
The Worst Ad Blockers
Outside of our above picks, there are even more “ad blockers” out there that are little more than scams. These run the gamut from just being really bad at blocking ads to being data-collection schemes that don’t even try to adequately protect you.
Some of these services, such as AdBlock Pro and uBlock Plus, purposefully disguise themselves by using names that are similar to legit ad blockers, hoping to confuse users into downloading their software instead. Others, such as Smart Popup Blocker, Webutation or HD for YouTube, aren’t quite as sneaky but still aren’t worth your time or disk space.
One service — AdBlock Plus — is for the most part a perfectly acceptable option for blocking ads, with one significant caveat: it takes money from companies to allow their ads. Most of the time this won’t be noticeable, so if you really like AdBlock Plus, you can keep using it, but this sort of behavior is at the very least a significant conflict of interest, if not borderline fraud.
Choosing the Best Ad Blockers
The most important criterion when deciding what ad blockers are the best is, of course, how effective they are at blocking ads. This includes acting as a YouTube ad blocker, but also weeding out other kinds of video ads, annoying banner ads, tracking requests and any other advertisements you can think of.
Beyond the basic functionality of blocking ads, we also looked at how much extra protection was offered by each service. This mostly revolves around blocking various trackers and offering increased privacy protection.
Some ad blockers also make deals with specific websites to allow ads to be shown on their domains, which is a huge conflict of interest and can quickly make the blocker worse than useless.
Finally, because ads are such an important component of online businesses, many have put in place measures to detect when users are blocking their ads and subsequently restrict them from accessing the content. An ad blocker that can get around these restrictions is immediately a lot more attractive than ones that can’t.
Do Ad Blockers Actually Work?
For the most part, yes. Ad blockers work by scanning the scripts that run on a website and cross referencing them with a list of known ad scripts. If anything matches, the script is prevented from loading, which results in the ad not being shown. Although it’s usually not possible to literally block all ads, the best ad blockers come pretty damn close.
Are Ad Blockers Illegal?
Ad blockers are absolutely legal, and you’ll never find yourself in any kind of legal trouble for installing one and using it as you browse the internet. Although you could certainly make a case that it constitutes stealing (and we’re sure there’s some lawyers out there who have tried) no one has ever faced legal repercussions for using an ad blocker.
However, while you won’t be committing any crimes by installing an ad blocker and browsing the internet, it’s worth bearing in mind that any website you visit that bases its business model around ads won’t see any revenue from your visit. Thus, if you’re a big fan of a specific website and want to do your part to make sure it continues operating, consider whitelisting it.
At the end of the day, there are a ton of options for you to choose from when it comes to blocking ads. If you’re willing to pay a small fee, then AdGuard is easily the best option, as you get device-wide coverage and excellent performance.
On the other hand, uBlock Origin and AdBlock are both completely free and great for blocking ads in your browser, so if this is where your needs are, then you might as well go with one of these options that won’t cost you a penny.
What do you think of our choice of ad blockers? Have you had bad experiences with any of them, or have we missed your favorite pick? Let us know in the comments below. Thank you for reading.