You’re home, and you’re thinking of projects to do. What about setting up your home network to block ads?
What is ad blocking?
You may have used an extension in your browser to block ads, but when you block them on your network, you don’t have to configure each device. It’s not without it’s faults, some things will stop working. For example, if you try to click on any search results marked with Ad, the link won’t work. But, your browsing will be faster and I’ve noticed that ads in iPhone games are blocked.
One other con against blocking is that you are depriving the website of revenue, revenue that they may need. It is nice to be able to enable the ads on certain sites, but that’s a real hassle when you’re blocking for the entire network. I don’t have a solution for this.
How it works
When you block ads on an entire network, what you’re actually doing is blocking access to the ad server in the Domain Name Service (DNS). DNS is used as a phone book for the internet, translating names such as ryancollins.org to its IP address so your browser can find the site. People smarter than I collect lists of ad servers, and with that information, the servers can be blocked with DNS. This means the ad blocking will work on any device, without configuration.
These aren’t the only options, but they are two very good options. The first one is the easiest and the second one is for the geeks among us.
NextDNS is the easiest to get going. By following their directions for setting up your router, you can be ready to go in a few minutes. The site is currently free, and will remain free for up to 300K queries a month once it gets out of beta. Will 300K queries be enough normal usage? I don’t really know. My home network had over 3M queries last month, so probably not.
They do have the option of apps for your devices, so the blocking can follow you outside of your home network. But, if you’re holed up at home like us, that might not be a big concern right now.
Besides having a really cool name, Pi-hole is pretty powerful. It is designed be set up and ran on a separate machine, and Raspberry Pis are pretty inexpensive. Setting up Pi-hole and running Pi-hole does require some work. If that scares you, it may be worth the $1.99/month to stick with NextDNS.
The Pi My Life tutorial is pretty nice how how to set up a Raspberry Pi and your home network.
Regular DNS travels over the internet in plain text, allowing anyone to see the sites you are visiting. Your ISP or wireless carrier could be (probably is) collecting this information to sell to the highest bidder. If you set up pi-hole to use DNS-Over-HTTPS then your DNS queries are encrypted, and snooping eyes can’t see what you’re doing. Well, that’s not entirely true. They can’t know the names of the sites you are visiting, but they can know the IP addresses of those sites. You’d have to use a VPN to hide this information.
Every once in awhile I have to turn Pi-hole off because a website won’t work correctly or a link wouldn’t work. It’s not too often though. And the lack of ads during normal browsing is well worth the little pain.