Say no to Tracking! A Guide to Ad Blocking Methods
Photo by Jay_Zynism on Canva
In this post we’ll take a look at online tracking & different Ad Blocking methods, how they work and how they protect your privacy…
What is adware?
Adware is any software that is designed to display advertisements.
The point of adware is generally to generate revenue for its developer or business. You are experiencing adware anytime you visit a website with an ad banner or are forced to watch a video to use a free phone app.
You know those ads on the side of a website, that continue to follow you around. Yeah annoying, right? That’s adware doing its thing. Adware is more than just annoying, here’s why adware can be dangerous…
Advertisers want to make as much money as possible, and gathering your personal data about you helps them do that. They have a big incentive to recklessly invade your privacy as much as possible so that they can bombard you with highly accurate targeted ads.
Adware doesn’t always stay where it’s supposed to. It can track you from website to website, app to app, gathering data about your browsing habits, interests, location history and more. Here are some examples of trackers embedded within apps on Android:
As can be seen, from these 3 examples of random apps chosen from the Play Store, they are full of trackers. Why would a simple flashlight app need to connect to 20 different domains? Why would a simple game such as Paper.io 2 need to connect to 27 different domains? (Keep in mind these exclude subdomains). We used the Lumen Privacy Monitor app for our testing.
In the screenshots below, we have managed to remove the majority of the tracking domains using our in-house tool.
Although we have built an in-house tool to remove third-party tracking domains from apps whilst still keeping the apps fully functional, due to funding issues and copyright rules we are unable to release at this time. In the meantime, we would definitely recommend ad blockers for both browsers and smart devices (e.g. smartphones/tablets) as they can also be very effective in combating data harvesting.
Adware can also be used to spread malware. Basically malicious adware can infect your browser or device when you click on an ad, but the scariest part is that some kinds of adware can infect you even without a click. Dark patterns may play role here, fooling users into clicking/tapping buttons that are misleading, which may cause harm or unintended actions.
Ad Blockers Overview
Ad blockers can protect your privacy and prevent your browser or device from getting infected with malware. You also might experience faster loading times, better battery life, and a smoother browsing experience after installing an ad blocker.
Since there are so many kinds of advanced adware out there, it’s important to choose an ad blocker that will fully protect you. There are a number of different types of ad blockers. Here are some of your choices:
- VPNs with dedicated ad blockers: Some VPN services come with built-in apps that protect you from adware. Since VPNs can protect you from multiple kinds of tracking, adware will have a really hard time collecting data about you. Another benefit of going with a VPN is that many services make it easy to protect multiple devices with a single subscription. Examples; Perfect Privacy (full VPN service that also blocks tracking domains), IVPN (full VPN service that also blocks ads & tracking domains), Blokada (uses VPN type service to block tracking domains at the DNS level for Android) and AdGuard (available for a range of devices and operating systems).
- Browsers: Many web browsers come with built-in ad blocking software, so you can avoid adware without any effort. Some are pretty effective, but their features are usually limited compared with a third-party blocker. You’ve got to be careful, although some browsers sometimes offer these, in the likes of Google you may not want to trust them. Our recommended setup would be Firefox with a few tweaks and a few extensions for the easiest and smoothest setup for the best privacy focused browsing experience (guide coming soon!).
- Extensions: You can protect your browser from adware by choosing one of many third-party browser extensions. There are both free and paid applications out there that work with most web browsers. They usually let you customize your experience more than built-in browser ad blockers. Examples: uBlock Origin (also available on the Chrome Web Store) and Privacy Badger (also available on the Chrome Web Store). We would also suggest HTTPS Everywhere which forces the browser to use the https encrypted version of the website (if available).
- Device or Router: A dedicated ad-blocking router or a virtual router can be set up with a DNS filter that will automatically block requests from servers that are known to provide adware or tracking services. You could look into pairing an inexpensive Raspberry Pi with Pi-Hole. Pi-Hole is open-source software designed for network-wide ad blocking. Depending on your level of expertise, this may be rather easy or difficult to set up. However, it is definitely worth looking into, here is a link to the setup if you would like to give it a shot!
Remember you can always combine multiple types of ad blockers to get the best possible protection.
Trackers are becoming ever more present across the web and apps, they are morphing into the eyes and ears of corporation’s across the world. All united for one simple goal; to collect all the data they possible can on users. This may be for financial gain or even political gain. Point being, whether you hate the idea or love it (I’m sure you know our opinion by now), it is happening at an astonishing rate.
However, I believe all hope is not lost, the privacy community online is thriving at the moment, fighting back. Creating apps, methods and tools to prevent our data being exploited. Although the majority may not realise what is happening behind the scenes, or simply not care. There are those of us who do and I for one, support and believe in them.
We hope you found this article useful. Check out our blog for more guides on protecting your privacy.