Firefox ad-blocking with uBlock Origin

Another thing I like to have setup in my browsers is ad-blocking.

I don’t really mind advertisements on web pages as my brain is now pretty much programmed to ignore them after 20 years of web browsing (that’s the entire time web adverts have been about I think!). But obtrusive popups and the like I detest.

I also find many sites so clogged full of utter rubbish adverts that the page does not load – the contents not usually worth waiting for anyway but it does take a while for your browser to sort it all out sometimes.

I don’t mind websites making money from adverts but it is now the case that end users/potential customers need some kind of control over them.

And that’s where uBlock origin, a Firefox add-on, is very useful, if not essential.

This add-on could be described as a ‘browser firewall’ but in many users eyes that implies it is complicated to use, gets in the way and/or slows things down – none of those assumptions is true. uBlock Origin is very easy to use, is fast and does not slow web pages down – in fact it speeds them up – and is so unobtrusive you forget it’s there.

uBlock Origin can be added from the Firefox store. Here’s the direct link: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-GB/firefox/addon/ublock-origin/?src=search

Don’t get confused with Ublock which was a previous version which has since been forked by the original developer into uBlock Origin. The add-on is open source and here is the github page: https://github.com/gorhill/uBlock. You may notice that it also works with the Chromium engine – So there is an add-on for Opera as well: https://addons.opera.com/en-gb/extensions/details/ublock/?display=en#main. Or you could add it to Google Chrome if you really want to use that browser (you probably know my feelings on that by now!).

And here’s the Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UBlock_Origin

uBlock Origin is simple to install and you can just leave it to do what it does without getting into the detailed settings but those settings and information on what it is doing are all there if you wish to delve in. It adds an icon to the top right of the Firefox browser with the uBlock Origin logo: ublock_origin_icon

Simply put, once installed, if you load a web page you will start seeing numbers appearing over this icon – that’s showing how much crap uBlock origin is blocking. For example simply visiting the wordpress.com web site produces this: ublock_origin_icon_nos. Yep, 66 requests blocked.

You can click on the icon and it will show this by default:

ublock_origin_initial

In fact the number of requests went up to 72 while I was getting that image.

Clicking on the + next to the requests blocked or the domain connected produces an expanded dialog:

ublock_origin_expanded

Up to 79 blocks now!

This interface looks a bit daunting but is really simple to understand and use.

You will see listed the third party domains that the page has requested things from. Green next to the domain indicates items were not blocked, red means all requests were blocked and yellow indicates some requests were blocked.

uBlock origin uses a range of thrid party ad blocking lists to decide what to block and what not to by default.

Notice that you also get the 1st party domain information – in this case wordpress.com which it is not blocking.

In most cases you can continue with the defaults but you can set things to how you want in great detail by using this interface. If you hover your mouse over the columns next to the domains you will notice some green and red boxes appear. So you can choose red to block that domain or green to unblock – the first column denotes settings for this site only, the second column denotes settings globally for all sites you visit.

ublock_origin_expanded_colours

In the above image I am hovering over the facebook.net entry which I can block by selecting red for the wordpress.com site that I am visiting. All these choices are remembered by the add-on.

The plusses and minuses in the second column denote how much is being blocked or not – one plus means between 1 and 9 requests were allowed, 2 pluses between 10 and 100 and three pluses over 100. Minuses denote what is blocked in the the same way.

You can quickly see how you can finely tune your browsing experience but be wary if you are not sure what you are doing. For example blocking fonts.googleapis.com may render the website unusable as it will be using a completely different font to what you expect or blocking facebook.net may mean a widget that the site is using for extra functionality cannot be used.

By far the most useful option is the blue on/off button:

ublock_origin_blue_button

Clicking this will unblock everything for a site. So if you visit a site that you like and support and you want to allow them to track your usage and serve up adverts so that they get revenue just visit the site and hit the blue button. This is whitelisting and you can view a list of the sites you have whitelisted within the uBlock origin settings which can be located at the gear icon in the top left of the dialog: ublock_origin_settings_button

Goto the whitelist tab:

ublock_origin_settings_whitelist

It’s quite fun to test this all out in realtime. You can logon to facebook and see that uBlock origin is now blcoking all the ads in amongst your normal postings, click on the blue icon and refresh and those adverts all come flooding back. (remember to switch blocking back on unless you want facebook to get even more money of course!).

As mentioned because uBlock origin is blocking all this stuff, web pages will load much quicker – this is certainly my experience. I now find that if I am on a machine without uBlock origin installed I really notice how slow some websites are.

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SearX for Anonymous Search

If you have read my past posts on search engines you would have realised that I am always looking to use a search engine other than Google search – well anything other than Google in everything I do!

In the past I have recommended Scroogle which unfortuately died in 2012, ixquick.com a European based search engine, duckduckgo.com which is still going and growing in strength and most recently privatesearch.io which also seems to have disappeared although the excellent sister site privacytools.io is still going – they have great advice on which software and services to use to be as private as possible (and move away from Google).

All these services have one thing in common, they anonymize your searching to mitigate against your personal life being tracked. Results are not produced by profiling the user (tracking), every user will get the same search results when entering the same search terms.

Scroogle used a hack into Google’s search engine but suffered from being reliant on Google not changing their API to thwart this kind of third party service.

Duckduckgo relies on Bing, Yahoo and crowdsourced sites like Wikipedia for it’s search results.

Privatesearch.io did something similar but also used Google for results.

Not sure what happened to Privatesearch.io but it was based on the opensource asciimoo/Searx project: https://github.com/asciimoo/searx. This works in a similar way to the other engines – anonymizes your search and uses Yahoo, Bing and Google (it shows which search engine the results have come from and also uses many other sources). It is completely open source and there is a thriving community – https://twitter.com/Searx_engine – where many people have created their own search engine sites for general search or for specific search criteria: http://stats.searx.oe5tpo.com/ This link will list all the current Searx sites available (and whether they are up – note the down signal for privatesearch.io). The one I use the most is the general Searx.me site.

searx.png

 

ixquick.com is still going, and it has somehow acquired the domain startpage.com. It is owned by a commercial outfit – Surfboard Holdings B.V. in the Netherlands. It has had much more written about it and many awards and plaudits associated with it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ixquick. It’s based in Europe and adheres to European privacy rules plus a lot more. The only drawback is that it is a little slow.

startpage

What I found with all these engines was that results were very much steered towards the USA – I’m in the UK so I wanted results more relevant to my local area. Searx.me does offer preferences where you can change the country to United Kingdom and I found that the results are very good using this engine. Ixquick also now has the ability to change preferences to UK English and even has a ‘Pages from the UK’ button automatically appearing (I assume that changes according to which country you are in) and I have found the results very relevant.

So what would I recommend now?

At this time I would definitely recommend startpage.com from ixquick as your default search engine but if speed is important and you like the idea of using an opensource solution rather than commercial then go with SearX – that’s what I use.

Note: when saving preferences they are usually saved in a cookie. If you delete cookies on exiting your browser have a look at the selectivecookiedelete add-on for Firefox detailed in a previous post: My Firefox settings – retaining some cookies whilst deleting everything else on exit

 

Check your Facebook Advert settings are what you really want

Came across an article recently that showed how Facebook has added a new option to the Adverts settings that allows Facebook to use tracking ads even if you previously opted out using the existing settings:

Facebook1.png

“Ads on apps and websites off of the Facebook Companies” – what legalese there I think. “The Facebook Companies” – looking at the details provides some further information on this: https://www.facebook.com/help/111814505650678:

facebook_companies.png

Love the cute owl – makes you fell all warm and cuddly and safe doesn’t it. Don’t be fooled – having this option set to Yes means Facebook can track you across all their sites/services and probably beyond.

To turn it off simply hit Edit and choose No:

facebook

Thanks to Dave Carol for highlighting this: https://medium.com/@profcarroll/awkward-conversation-with-facebook-ef1734ecdc62#.tipvxac44