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Is AdBlock not free anymore?

I know you may be wondering if the popular ad blocking extensions you‘ve come to rely on will remain free going forward. It‘s a fair question given upcoming changes to Chrome that threaten to disable AdBlock and uBlock Origin.

The good news is, ad blocking will remain free in 2023 through various methods I‘ll outline below. But first, let‘s dive deeper into the ad blocking landscape so you can make informed choices.

How online ad blocking works

Ads on the internet help fund free content, but many have become intrusive and full of tracking tools that compromise our privacy.

Enter ad blockers – browser extensions that automatically filter out ads and tracking scripts. They work by blocking requests to ad-related domains. Whenever you open a web page, the ad blocker checks it against a list of advertising domains and stops those requests before ads can load.

This makes pages load faster, saves bandwidth on mobile, and protects you from annoying pop-ups and autoplay video ads. Popular ad blockers like AdBlock Plus and uBlock Origin have amassed millions of users with their free browser extensions.

But internet advertising has only grown more pervasive. A report by eMarketer indicates digital ad spending in the US alone will top $273 billion by 2027, up from $178 billion in 2022.

US digital ad spending

US digital ad spending keeps growing every year. Image source: eMarketer

With ads becoming more difficult to avoid, it‘s no wonder many turn to ad blockers. But are those same ad blockers still going to be available for free in the future?

Manifest V3 – how Chrome changes threaten ad blocking

Google Chrome plans to implement a new extension system called Manifest V3 in 2023 that will severely limit ad blocking capabilities.

Manifest V3 removes the powerful webRequest API that ad blockers like uBlock Origin and AdBlock Plus rely on to intercept network requests and block ads before they load.

Instead, it introduces a new declarativeNetRequest API with more limited powers. This prevents extensions from being able to block resources loaded from third-party domains – which is how most advertising is implemented.

Experts like Raymond Hill, creator of uBlock Origin, warn this change neuters ad blocking effectiveness. Advertisers can circumvent the restrictions by loading ads from different domains than page content.

Without the ability to intercept cross-domain requests, ad blockers in Chrome will only be able to hide some page elements after they‘ve loaded. This means you‘ll still suffer the data usage and privacy implications of ads even if you can‘t see them visually.

Clearly, Manifest V3 poses a threat to free ad blocking. But there are still ways you can continue blocking ads after it‘s enforced. Let‘s discuss them.

How you can still block ads for free after Manifest V3

Manifest V3 will make native ad blocking much less effective in Chrome. But you have options to maintain an ads-free browsing experience:

1. Use an alternative browser like Firefox or Brave

Browsers like Firefox, Microsoft Edge, and Brave have stated they will retain Manifest V2 support even after Chrome disables it.

This means popular ad blocker extensions will continue working seamlessly in these browsers. Firefox in particular has over 20% global desktop browser market share, making it a viable option.

2. DNS-based ad blocking

DNS resolvers like AdGuard DNS and Cloudflare DNS can block ads and trackers by blacklisting advertising and tracking domains at the DNS level, before your browser loads a page.

AdGuard DNS is free and blocks ads on all your devices when configured to use their DNS servers. Cloudflare DNS also has an optional setting to block malware and adult content.

DNS ad blocking is independent of your browser, so it will remain effective after Manifest V3. The downside is you need to manually set up each of your devices to use the ad blocking DNS providers.

3. Use a VPN that blocks ads

Many virtual private network (VPN) providers like Surfshark and CyberGhost also offer ad blocking as part of their services.

Their apps intercept traffic at the system level and block ad requests within the encrypted VPN tunnel. This approach blocks ads throughout your device, including in apps and browsers. And it is also unaffected by Manifest V3.

Of course, you‘ll have to pay for these VPNs. But many offer affordable plans in the $2-$3/month range. Considering the amount of time we spend online, this seems like a worthwhile investment to me for maintaining ad-free browsing.

4. Block ads directly on your home network

Hardware solutions like Pi-hole allow blocking ads at the network level before they ever reach your devices.

Pi-hole works by blocking ad domains via DNS resolution on a dedicated Raspberry Pi device or computer acting as your network gateway. It analyzes all DNS queries from your home network and blocks any domains that serve ads.

You can set up Pi-hole on a spare machine to cover all connected smart TVs, phones, streaming boxes, and computers in your household. This approach keeps ads off your entire home network.

Expert views on the ad blocking controversy

Ad blocking has always stirred controversy between end users and online publishers who rely on ads to fund free content. I wanted to share insights from industry experts that capture both perspectives.

Popular YouTuber Linus Sebastian had this candid take:

"I don‘t actually blame people for running ad blockers. Ads on the internet have gotten really aggressive, obnoxious, and filled with malware… But I also need ads to pay my employees and feed my kids. So I really hope we find a mutually beneficial solution."

Cybersecurity company Malwarebytes explained how intrusive ads create security risks:

"Annoying ads can lead to rage clicking, unintended clicks, or reflex closing of tabs and windows. Users expect and deserve better than this, and it actually threatens the security of their devices and data."

On the other hand, software developer Marco Arment argued ad blocking takes revenue away from content creators:

"I consider ad blocking akin to piracy. It‘s taking someone else‘s content, that they‘ve invested time and money into, without contributing revenue toward it as intended."

Ultimately there are ethical arguments on both sides. The ad-supported internet model seems broken, but publishers also deserve compensation. More conversations are needed to find a fair solution.

Key statistics on ad blocking

  • AdBlock claims over 200 million active users worldwide. uBlock Origin says they have over 300 million users. [1]

  • Ad blocking costs publishers an estimated $42 billion in annual lost revenue globally based on current adoption rates. [2]

  • Over 642 million devices worldwide are using ad blockers currently. This is forecast to exceed 1 billion devices by 2025. [3]

  • Among US adults, 47% say they currently use an ad blocker. Another 17% have used one in the past. [4]

Clearly ad blocking is already widely embraced around the world. These stats indicate it will only continue growing as more intrusive ads drive adoption. Manifest V3 may hinder native ad blocking in Chrome, but it seems users will find ways to block ads regardless.

The main takeaway here is that free ad blocking still has a future after Manifest V3 through alternative browsers, DNS filtering, VPNs, and network-wide blocking. And with the amount of ads bombarding us daily, I expect many will continue opting to block them.

What do you think about ad blocking and Manifest V3? I‘d love to hear your perspective in the comments! Let me know if you have any other questions.



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.