Data Doctors: What to know about ad blockers

Q: What are the pros and cons of using ad blockers in my browser?

Ads on the internet are a fact of life that, frankly speaking, and help pay for many of the “free” services that we all enjoy. Having said that, the way that ads are delivered via third-party networks often cause pages to load slowly or they make it difficult to find the actual information being sought.

Mobile users on a limited data plan can reduce the amount of data they use by eliminating the bandwidth required for loading ads.

Throw in the potential for “malvertising” — when legitimate ad networks are infiltrated by malware-laden ads — and you have plenty of reasons for wanting to limit ads while you surf the web.

How ad blockers work

Ad blockers employ filtering techniques similar to anti-virus programs. They identify scripts and compare them with a list of known sites and scripts that are blocked based on the program’s preset parameters. They can also simply hide certain HTML elements of the page from your view even if your browser loads them.

It’s far from a perfect technology, but by and large, they do a pretty good job.

Ad blockers are not limited to your desktop or laptop computer: You can also use them on just about any of your mobile devices.

The downside of ad blockers

While the reasons for using an ad blocker may be many, there are some notable side effects.

The most obvious side effect: On pages that rely on scripts, blocking can totally “break” the page and dramatically change what you actually see.

Hardcore privacy advocates might consider them risky, as some of the free ad-blocking tools collect your browsing behaviors for third-party use.

There’s also the very real issue of using a “free” site that can only provide its content if they can pay for it through delivering ads. Technically speaking, if everyone on the internet used ad blockers, it would essentially destroy the business model that is the foundation of what we all take for granted on a daily basis.

One way to use the technology but support your favorite websites is to use the “whitelisting” option most of them employ, which allows ads on just the sites you choose.

Popular ad blocker options

One of the most popular browser add-ons, called AdBlock Plus, works with most major browsers and offers apps for both Android and iPhone users.

The Opera browser for computers and Opera Mini for mobile devices have an ad blocker built-in, so you can install it as an alternative browser for when you want to use ad blocking.

Firefox fans have long used the NoScript plug-in to manage a variety of scripts that range from ads to malware attacks, but I would only recommend this more elaborate tool for tech-savvy users.

Fans of Google’s Chrome browser can also try ScriptSafe to offer similar features to NoScript, though it’s not nearly as powerful.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

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