Hate Ads? Block Them in Safari on the iPhone

iOS 9 users can take advantage of content blocking apps

Safari ad blocking
The same website with ads (left) and with ads blocked (right).

Ads are a necessary evil on the modern Internet: they pay the bills for the vast majority of websites. But most people put up with them because they have to, not because they want to. If you'd prefer to block all ads on the web, and have iOS 9 on your iPhone, I have good news for you: you can.

Well, you won't be able to block all ads, but you can remove a ton of them, along with the software advertisers use to track your movements around the web to better target ads to you.

You can do this because iOS 9 supports content blocking apps. 

How Safari Content Blockers Work

Content blockers are apps you install on your iPhone that then plug into Safari to add new features that Safari itself doesn't have. They're kind of like the third-party keyboards Apple introduced in iOS 8 —separate apps that work inside other apps that support them. So, in order to block ads, you have to have at least one of these apps installed. 

Once you have the app enabled on your iPhone, most of them work this way: When you go to a website, the app checks a list of known ad services and servers and, if it finds them present on the site you're visiting, blocks them from loading ads on the page. Some of the apps take a slightly different approach and block not only the ads but also tracking cookies at the URL level.

Benefits of Ad Blocking: Speed, Data, Battery

The main benefit of blocking ads is obvious—you don't see advertising.

But there are three other key benefits of these apps:

  • Websites load faster—The way ads get onto websites makes the sites that use ads slow to load. Without having to grab the ads from other servers, sites load much faster 
  • You'll use less data—Since you're not displaying ads, you won't have to use any of your monthly data allowances to show them. At least one ad blocker app claims to save up to 50% of your normal data use. I'm skeptical that everyone will save that much, but it should still be a noticeable amount
  • Longer-lasting battery—The technologies that advertisers use to create ads and track users can drain iPhone batteries. Block ads and tracking and you should end up with a longer-lasting battery.

How to Install Content Blocking Apps

If you want to start taking advantage of content blocking, follow these steps:

  1. Make sure your device is running iOS 9
  2. Find the content blocking app you want at the App Store and install it
  3. Tap Settings
  4. Tap Safari
  5. Scroll to the General section and tap Content Blockers
  6. Move the slider to On/green for the app you want to enable
  7. Start browsing in Safari (these apps don't work in other browsers) and notice what's missing—the ads!

A List of Ad-Blocking Apps for iOS 9

Ad blocking apps are still relatively new, so this list is far from complete, but if you want to try out ad blocking, here are some good apps to start with:

  • 1Blocker—Free, with in-app purchase—In addition to blocking ads and other content, this app allows you to create your own blocker rules. Download Now
  • Blockr—US$0.99—In addition to blocking ads and tracking cookies, this app also blocks media like video and social media buttons, if you want. Download Now
  • Crystal—$0.99—The developer claims that this ad blocker load pages 4 times faster and uses 50% less data. Download Now
  • Peace—$2.99—Blocks ads and tracking cookies; created by Marco Arment, who created Instapaper and was the key developer at Tumblr. Download Now
  • Purify Blocker—$3.99—Blocks ads, tracking software, and includes a whitelist to let you see ads on some sites if you want. Download Now

You Can Block Ads, But Should You?

These apps let you block ads, but before you install them and start blocking ads left and right, you may want to consider the impact of ad blocking on the websites you love.

Almost every site on the Internet makes the vast majority of its money when it shows advertising to its readers. If the ads are blocked, the site doesn't get paid for them.

 The money made from advertising pays writers and editors, funds server and bandwidth costs, buys equipment, pays for photography, travel, and more. Without that income, it's possible that a site you visit every day could go out of business.

Many people are willing to take that risk: online advertising has become so intrusive, such a data hog, and uses up so much battery life that they'll try anything. I'm not saying that ad blocking is necessarily right or wrong, but make sure you fully understand the implications of the technology before you use it.