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Content Blocking 101 – apps that make web browsing better

In blocking annoying ads and productivity-sapping websites, these apps will boost your browsing

The internet is simultaneously one of humankind’s greatest inventions and a source of great irritation. It provides limitless potential for education and entertainment. Yet it’s peppered with content you don’t want to see – or that you do want to see, but should arguably see less of.

This round-up digs into apps that can make browsing better by blocking certain types of content. They help you disable advertising, nuke annoyances, and remove temptation if you intend to visit certain websites for a few minutes – only to accidentally waste hours on them.

Activating content blockers

Most apps in this round-up exist primarily as Safari extensions and content blockers, although some provide additional functionality in their standalone apps. They are activated in Settings > Safari > Extensions, or directly in Safari from the AA button in the address bar.

On activating an extension, you’ll need to give it permission to access the current website you’re using (Always Allow) and, if relevant, all websites (Always Allow on Every Website in the second alert that appears). Do also be wary of simultaneously running too many blockers and extensions designed to do broadly similar things, in case they clash. Run one for while, see how it works, and only then add another.

Unhabit (free)

Best for cutting down on website visits

You’re probably familiar with Screen Time, which – counter-intuitively – lets you define daily time limits for websites. Unhabit works in a similar fashion, only it’s much better and far more user-friendly than Apple’s solution.

Once the extension is activated, you can trigger it when visiting any website you’d like to waste less time on. Confirm you want to block the site. When you next visit, you’ll get a 15-second cooldown before an unblock option becomes available.

Head to the app itself and your blocked sites will be listed, with color-coding helpfully noting those you’ve visited the most often. In each case, you can dig into settings, to disable blocking on specific days, adjust the cooldown time, and peruse your visit stats from the previous week.

Unlike many competing apps, Unhabit doesn’t track your browsing and doesn’t even have a price tag. For a few bucks, we’d recommend it. For free, it’s a steal.

Get Unhabit

1Blocker ($2.99/£2.99 per month)

Best for blocking advertising

The idea behind 1Blocker is to let you eradicate anything online that will stop you from enjoying browsing, while giving you as much control as you need. At its most basic, it’s a set of switches in Settings. Tap them and you can instantly block ads, annoyances, trackers and more.

In this form, the app proves effective. It removes the vast majority of adverts, including videos, often vastly speeding up websites. But this isn’t a brute-force blocker: you can dig into a wealth of customization options, including whitelisting sites you want to support or blocking JavaScript and specific page elements from user-defined sites.

All this comes at a price, since the app has a subscription ($14.99/£14.99 annually) – or a hefty lifetime purchase option ($38.99/£33.99). We’d argue although 1Blocker isn’t cheap, it does represent great value because of how it improves your browsing experience. We wouldn’t be without it on our devices.

Get 1Blocker

Stop the Madness Mobile ($7.99/£6.99)

Best for eradicating minor niggles

This entry is, from a visual standpoint, best described as workmanlike. Regarding features, it offers nothing splashy or grand either – it won’t block all ads, nor specific sites. What it will do is deal with everything else – little niggles that are the website equivalent of paper cuts.

If you’re irked by Google AMP, this extension will send you to the original web pages. It stops clickjacking in search engines and blocks trackers. URL shorteners? Tamed. Sites that block drag and drop, contextual menus or copy and paste? Circumvented.

The extension also has ‘use with caution’ settings that are worth exploring. Turn on ‘show native video controls’ and ‘stop video autoplay’ and YouTube in Safari suddenly becomes a joy to use – and compatible with iOS picture-in-picture. In all, StopTheMadness Mobile is perhaps less essential than 1Blocker, but all those little things it can do ensure you get value for money.

Get Stop the Madness Mobile

Also consider…

Amplosion ($2.99/£2.49): Effectively redirects AMP pages to their original counterparts. AMP’s decline makes this extension less useful than it once was, and it’s redundant if you have Stop the Madness Mobile. But as a standalone AMP squasher, it’s the best.

Ka-Block (free): This open-source ad-blocker works well, removing most ads from web pages – although some video ones squeeze through. For free, it can’t be beaten, but the lack of nuance means you cannot whitelist sites you’d like to support. 1Blocker still reigns supreme there.

Super Agent (free): Plenty of apps are designed to bulldoze their way through cookie consent forms. Super Agent performs this function well, working invisibly in the background, and also providing you with a few options, including whitelisting specific sites.

Vinegar for iPhone

Vinegar ($1.99/£1.79): Like Amplosion, you won’t need this app if you own Stop The Madness Mobile and turn on the relevant options. Otherwise, Vinegar is an excellent way to tame YouTube, removing ads and making the service compatible with picture-in-picture.