How to Use Content Blockers (Ad Blockers) in iOS 9

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.

Safari block contentIn 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.

Reload web siteOne 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.

Ad Blockers and the Nuisance at the Heart of the Modern Web – The New York Times

But in the long run, there could be a hidden benefit to blocking ads for advertisers and publishers: Ad blockers could end up saving the ad industry from its worst excesses. If blocking becomes widespread, the ad industry will be pushed to produce ads that are simpler, less invasive and far more transparent about the way they’re handling our data — or risk getting blocked forever if they fail.

I use ad blockers. The web has turned into a trashy repository of content surrounded by aggressive ads. It’s worse on mobile, where you can’t (yet) easily use ad blockers (though iOS 9 will allow such utilities). I often tap through to an article someone has linked to on Twitter, when using my iPhone or iPad, only to find so many ads that it’s simply impossible to read. I close the page and move on. If content publishers want readers, they need to respect them, not just sell space to trashy ads, especially Google ads.

Source: Ad Blockers and the Nuisance at the Heart of the Modern Web – The New York Times

Did You Get Rid of Flash? Now, Here’s an Easy Way to Use Google Chrome to Display Flash Content

Yesterday, I wrote about why I was deleting Flash from my Macs. I mentioned that you can use Google Chrome to display Flash content, as the Flash plug-in is baked into Chrome. You won’t need to worry about updating Flash, since Chrome auto-updates very often.

But perhaps I should add some more information, explaining how easy it is to switch from Safari to Chrome to view Flash content. Sure, you could copy a URL, switch to Chrome, and paste it, but there’s a shortcut.

To facilitate this, turn on the Develop menu in Safari. Choose Safari > Preferences, and click Advanced. At the bottom of this window is an option to display the Develop menu.

Safari prefs develop menu

Now, when you’re viewing a web page, and want to switch to Chrome, just choose Develop > Open Page With > Google Chrome.

Safari open page with chrome

Unfortunately, you can’t set a keyboard shortcut for that menu, because the shortcut would have to match the exact version number of Chrome, which changes often.

There are lots of other options in the Develop menu, which you may find interesting, if you’re a web developer. If not, you can ignore the rest of the menu, and simply use this trick to quickly switch to Chrome when you want to view a Flash animation.

If you use LaunchBar, there’s a quicker way to open a web page from Safari in Chrome, without using the Develop menu. In Safari, press Command-L to select the URL in the address bar. Press and hold your LaunchBar shortcut; by default, this is Command-Space. This activates LaunchBar’s Instant Send. Type a few letters, such as CHR, to bring up Chrome. You’ll see something like this:

Open in chrome with launchbar

Press Return to open the URL in Chrome. You can use this same method, typing different letters, to open a URL in any other browser.

Shameless plug: for more LaunchBar tips, check out my book, Take Control of LaunchBar.

How to Move Your Website to a New Host

If you run a website–whether it’s a small, personal site dedicated to a hobby or interest, or a larger site that you use to promote your work or sell a product–there may come a time when you want to move it. Your site may have outgrown your current hosting plan, you may be disappointed in the service or support of your hosting provider, or you may simply want to change because you’ve found a better price.

My website, Kirkville, recently started outgrowing its hosting plan. With traffic reaching around 250,000 page views a month, I hit the limit of what my provider could support with standard, shared hosting. All it would take was one article that got a lot of traction, and the site could be overloaded. In addition, my previous host had a server problem back in February, which kept my site offline for about 36 hours, and I was unhappy with their support. So, I decided it was time to move.

Read the rest of the article on Macworld.

How to Switch Search Engines on Mac OS X and iOS (And Why You Should)

If you’re like most people, you search the web a lot. Google handles more than 40,000 searches per second, or 3.5 billion per day, or more than 1 trillion searches every year. Your share of that may be small: if you’re just an average person, you may search the web 3-5 times a day, but some of us, such as writers, may perform several dozen searches in a single day when researching articles and books.

Searching the web is free. But nothing is really free. In exchange for providing you with such a powerful tool, Google collects data about you. It creates a unique profile of you, of your interests, your medical conditions (because everyone searches Google when they have health questions), and your browsing activity, and uses this to provide carefully targeted ads. It also tracks the websites you visit, ensuring not to miss anything you do.

This is why you often see ads related to your web searches. For example, you may have a question about your pet, and use Google to find the answer. You’ll end up seeing ads for pet food on various web pages. Google is the biggest advertising provider on the web, and millions of websites use Google Ads. So by storing information about you on Google’s servers, the company can know which ads are most likely to interest you. (Of course they don’t know if that search about the cat was really for a friend or neighbor, in which case the ads are incorrectly targeted.)

In other words, using a search engine is the same as giving away lots of private information about you, your habits, and your life. You may not want to do that.

Read the rest of the article on The Mac Security Blog.

5 Safari Plug-Ins that Make Browsing Better

One thing I hate when I’m browsing the web is being distracted. I hate those blinking, moving ads, auto-play videos, and all the other cruft that websites use to try to get you to click, click, click somewhere, rather than read the article that attracted you in the first place.

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid the most egregious annoyances on the web. Some of them can be easily muted using browser plug-ins, like the five that I use with Safari to make my browsing experience a lot better. (Note: some of these plug-ins also have equivalents for other browsers, such as Firefox and Chrome.)

Read the rest of the article on Macworld.

Two-Step Authentication Is Too Complicated for Many People

Apple’s recent nude selfie hack illustrated the need for two-step or two-factor authentication (TFA) as a way of hardening the protection for online accounts. You may be familiar with this from banks, some of which use systems where you generate a one-time authentication code that you enter together with your password. It ensures that access to your account requires both something you know (your password) and something you have (a device that generates a code; an app; a cellphone to receive a code by SMS).

Here’s how Apple explains the process:

Safari001.png

In practice, however, this is problematic. I use TFA on Dropbox; whenever I log into Dropbox on a new device, I immediately get a code sent to my iPhone. I enter that code, and I can access my files. But, the other day, I tried to turn on TFA for Google. I went to step 1, where I entered my user name and password, then step 2, where I gave them my cellphone number. Then I waited; and waited. I then clicked a link saying I hadn’t received the code, and I clicked a link to have it sent again. And again. Then the Google site recommended I have them send a voice mail instead of a text message. I waited. And I waited. I finally got a voice call with the code, but when I entered it, it had already expired. I never got any of the text messages, which I requested four times. Needless to say, the way Google works, I would be effectively locked out of my account with no way at all to get back in.

I’ve thought about activating TFA for my iCloud account, but have you ever looked at Apple’s FAQ for two-step verification for an Apple ID? I make my living writing about computers, and telling people how to use them, and I’m daunted by this page. I once started the process, but it was so scary – full of warnings that if I didn’t print out the Recovery Key, I might never be able to get access to my iCloud data. Needless to say, I gave up.

Two-factor authentication is a powerful tool; my bank uses this, and a banker told me that, since they introduced it, fraud has essentially disappeared. But the way it is implemented for online accounts is problematic, and dangerous. Accessing my data is far too important to trust to a system that can go wrong, as Google’s did, or that is too confusing, as Apple’s is. There has to be a better way.

Stop Safari from Asking You if You Want Notifications from Websites

Are you annoyed by Safari asking you if you want to get push notifications from some websites? Here’s how you can turn those messages off.

Safari for OS X has a feature called Push Notifications, which lets you get notifications on your Mac – banners or alerts – when a web site wants to let you know about a great new article. I find these quite annoying, and I’ve turned them off, but I realized recently that a lot of people don’t know how to keep Safari from displaying the dialog.

When you go to a website that uses this feature, you’ll see a sheet in Safari like this:

Safari004.png

It’s annoying to have to click Don’t Allow each time you land on a website using Push Notifications, but you can turn these dialogs off in Safari’s preferences. Choose Safari > Preferences, then click on Notifications. Uncheck the option at the bottom, Allow websites to ask for permission to send push notifications.

Safari001.png

If you’ve already allowed certain websites, you’ll still get notifications; you just won’t get asked any more. And you can remove any of the websites that have asked – whether you have allowed or denied these notifications – by selecting them in the same window, then clicking Remove, or nuke them all by clicking Remove All.