iOS 9 adds a useful feature for those who are annoyed by ads and trackers. You can now use content blockers, or ad blockers, together with Safari to streamline the web pages you load. This not only makes the web easier to read, but also speeds up your load times and cuts down the amount of data you use.
The ethics of blocking ads is one that needs discussing. Back in the early days of the web, there were ads, and they weren’t annoying. But then came pop-up ads; they were annoying. Web browsers added a feature to block pop-ups. Pop-up ads were seen as a step too far. Next came animated ads: Flash objects presenting videos, or animated gifs. They distract the reader, making it very hard to concentrate.
And so it went, on and on, until many users had simply had enough. There are ad blockers you can use as extensions for browsers such as Safari, Firefox, and Chrome, and now you can use similar tools on iOS.
Developer Marco Arment wrote an article about a month ago, discussing The ethics of modern web ad-blocking. He points out that not only is it ads that slow down the web, but that trackers:
track your behavior across multiple sites, building a creepily accurate and deep profile of your personal information and private business.
This is an invasion of privacy, since you never opt in to such trackers.
All of that tracking and data collection is done without your knowledge, and — critically — without your consent. Because of how the web and web browsers work, the involuntary data collection starts if you simply follow a link. There’s no opportunity for disclosure, negotiation, or reconsideration. By following any link, you unwittingly opt into whatever the target site, and any number of embedded scripts from other sites and tracking networks, wants to collect, track, analyze, and sell about you.
I’m not against ads in general, and I run some on this site. But I don’t use sleazy ad networks like Google Ads, that deliver profile-targeted ads, and often ads from real bottom feeders. As such, I’ve opted to use ad blockers, but to whitelist those sites I visit regularly whose ads don’t cause problems reading or loading web pages.
In iOS 9. It’s very, very easy to use an ad blocker with Safari. Download one – you can find a list of several of them on The Loop – then go to Settings > Safari > Content Blockers and toggle the button next to its name. You could potentially use more than one content blocker, but I’m not sure if this will cause conflicts. Note that you’ll also be able to use content blockers to block things other than ads, such as for parental controls.
I’ve chosen to use Marco Arment’s $3 Peace, which is doing a great job so far. You can choose to block ads and trackers, to also block social widgets (sharing buttons, and the like), and even block external fonts, which slow down the web quite a bit. Arment has licensed technology from Ghostery, which blocks trackers efficiently, and using Peace makes web pages load much more quickly on my mobile devices. You can also add unrestricted sites, so you can whitelist the sites you like.
One thing to note. You may find sites that don’t load correctly with a content blocker in action. If so, you can reload any site without it. In Safari, all you need to do is tap and hold the reload button in the toolbar. When you do so, a menu displays asking if you want to request the desktop site, instead of the mobile site, or if you want to reload that site worth content blockers.
It’s a shame we had to get to this point. I make my living from writing, much of which is published on ad-supported websites. And I have ads on this site. So I would rather that the sleazy ad networks hadn’t killed the web, but they have.
Update: Marco Arment today announced that he is pulling Peace from the App Store. He said:
Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have. Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.
Peace will continue to function, but there will be no updates. Marco’s blog post explains how to get a refund if you so desire.