Do Ad Blockers Protect Your Privacy? Yes, Sometimes.

Pat Whelan

There are many ad blockers out there. But in the same way as with blocking ads, they are not created equal when it comes to privacy and data protection. Reputable ad blockers can do a lot to improve browsing experience and protect you from malicious adware, behavioral trackers and dodgy websites. 

In a recent blog post, I described how ad blockers are not created equal when it comes to actually blocking ads. The same is true when it comes to protecting  privacy, personal data and behavioral tracking. The most reputable ad blockers do protect privacy by blocking a plethora of tracking and data tools such as Analytics, Attribution, tracking and many other services.  As well  tag managers that are used to load all kinds of tracking scripts are blocked. But there are many ad blockers out there that accomplish less than they promise.

This topic has been on peoples’ radar for some time including research done by Visual Objects in which they state that “Ad blocker users may think that blocking ads keeps their data safe. Ad blockers prevent users from seeing ads, but not every ad blocker extension stops data from being collected.”

How Do Ad Blockers Work

Ad blocking uses a variety of techniques to interfere with web content. Some use what’s known as HTTPS request blocking which identifies outgoing requests to ad platforms, mostly built in JavaScript,  and instructs the browser not to load them. Others use CSS rules to hide certain elements on a web page. This responds to some companies displaying ads through in-house ad servers that don’t use or need HTTPS requests. These rules identify and tell the browser to hide any CSS element that matches the rule, preventing the ad from appearing.

Ad blockers use a combination of these and other techniques combined into what’s known as filter lists. The most widely used is EasyList which removes most ads from web pages, including unwanted objects, frames and images. EasyLists is then used by ad blockers in combination with numerous supplementary filter lists increasing their ad blocking capability.Lastly, those that truly have the consumers interest front and center have adopted  EasyPrivacy, an optional supplementary filter list that comes with some ad blockers by default or can be added, that completely removes all forms of tracking and personal data capture. 

That being said, some ad blockers presented as being champions of privacy, perform diametrically opposite by removing consumer visibility into actual tracking that’s taking place and offers no choice or ability to choose, if any, which trackers and cookies they are prepared to accept.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

It is true that some ad blockers offer browser extensions such as UBlock Origin, Privacy Badger and Ghostery that give consumers control and help prevent companies from following their online activity. Here, for example, is a screenshot of the optional privacy settings in UBlock Origin.

But there are others that fall short in this critical area for consumers. In an article published in VPMentor this month titled “How safe are ad blockers?” the writer Gemma Davison researched numerous ad blockers highlighting that “… there are a number of scam services that operate using similar names to legitimate apps. These fake ad blockers collect data about your browsing habits, and they may even change your browser’s behavior.” 

What Other Privacy Choices Do Consumers Have?

There are two ways in addition to using reputable ad blockers that consumers can adopt to protect themselves. In addition to ad blockers such as UBlock Origin, Privacy Badger and Ghostery, consumers are also turning to browsers that give users the option to disable tracking like Brave, Safari, Firefox and Google Chrome. 

The second choice consumers have is to use a VPN. VPNs offer a range of features including data encryption (with built in ad blocking), that guarantees privacy, protects personal data and devices.

The Bottom Line

There are many ad blockers out there. But in the same way as with blocking ads, they are not created equal when it comes to privacy and data protection. Reputable ad blockers can do a lot to improve browsing experience and protect you from malicious adware, behavioral trackers and dodgy websites. 

So I recommend you double check your ad blocker if you already have one to ensure it addresses your needs as they offer different levels of protection. And important to note is that all the features you need may be turned on by default when installing them, so double check that they are. Whatever you do, stay away from the “scams”.

If you want to ensure your complete protection from data collectors, adware, hackers, and the myriad of other cyber threats, you might as well consider all the above. Use a reliable ad blocker with a browser that stops tracking and think about accessing the web through a best in class VPN.

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What is

Permission-based Advertising?

Adtoniq technology allows for ads to be served to ad block audiences with their permission which results in higher engagement and more conversions.

We only serve ads to an ad blocker when they have given some form of consent to do so. We do not force ads on ad block users, nor do we ask them to white-list or turn off their ad blockers. Users can revoke their permission at any time and we strive to make their experience fully transparent.