How to Block Ads in Safari on the iPhone

iOS 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 ads on the web, and have iOS 9 or higher on your iPhone, I have good news for you: you can.

Technically, you won't be able to block all ads. But you can still remove many 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 the iOS—the operating system that runs on the iPhone—supports ad blocking apps. 

How Safari Content Blockers Work

Content blockers are apps you install on your iPhone that add new features to Safari that the iPhone's default web browser doesn't usually have. They're kind of like third-party keyboards—separate apps that work inside other apps that support them. That means that 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 in the same way. When you go to a website, the app checks a list of ad services and servers. If it finds them on the site you're visiting, the app blocks them from loading ads on the page. Some of the apps take a slightly more comprehensive approach. They block not only the ads but also tracking cookies used by advertisers based on their website address (URL).

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 with advertising slow to load. Without having to grab the ads from other servers, sites load much faster 
  • You use less data—Since you're not displaying ads, you won't have to use any of your monthly data allowances to load them. At least one ad blocker app claims to save up to 50% of your normal data use. I'm skeptical that most people 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. Blocking ads and tracking cookies should give you a longer-lasting battery.

It's worth noting that there is one downside. Some websites use software that detects whether you're using ad blockers and won't let you use the site until you turn them off. For more on why sites might do that, see "You Can Block Ads, But Should You?" at the end of this article.

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 or higher
  2. Find the content blocking app you want at the App Store and install it
  3. Launch the app by tapping on it. There may be some basic set up that the app requires
  4. Tap Settings
  5. Tap Safari
  6. Scroll to the General section and tap Content Blockers
  7. Find the app you installed in Step 2 and move the slider to On/green
  8. Start browsing in Safari (these apps don't work in other browsers) and notice what's missing—the ads!

How to Block Pop-Ups on iPhone

Ad blocking apps can block all kinds of ads and trackers used by advertisers, but if you just want to block intrusive pop-ups, you don't need to download any app. Pop-up blocking is built into Safari. Here's how you turn it on:

  1. Tap Settings
  2. Tap Safari
  3. In the General section, move the Block Pop-ups slider to on/green.

A List of Ad-Blocking Apps for iPhone

This list is not a complete list, but here are some good apps to try out ad blocking:

  • 1Blocker—Free, with in-app purchase—In addition to 40,000 built-in ad and other content blockers, this app allows you to create your own blocking rules. Download Now
  • Block Ads—Free—This free ad blocker claims that your browsing will be 2-5 times faster and use up to 50% less data. Download Now
  • Crystal—$0.99—The developer claims that this ad blocker load pages 4 times faster and uses 50% less data. This app also lets you view ads on some sites to support them. Download Now
  • Norton Ad Blocker—Free—An ad-blocking app from the company behind the popular and long-running antivirus software. Download Now
  • Purify Blocker—$1.99—Blocks ads, tracking software, and includes a whitelist to let you see ads on some sites if you want. The developer claims using this app makes your browsing 4 times faster and use 50% less data. Download Now

You Can Block Ads, But Should You?

These apps let you block ads, but before you start blocking anything, 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 by showing advertising to its readers. If the ads are blocked, the site doesn't get paid. 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 using it.