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Adblock Plus Firefox Helps Block Internet Tracking and Malware

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The main reason you have even heard of AdBlock Plus Firefox is probably very simple – it is a great little tool for keeping web pages free of ad clutter. Web ads are annoying, distracting and, in some cases, so obtrusive that they actually prevent you from accessing a web page's content. But the problem goes beyond poor web aesthetics and site usability; it is a matter of privacy as well. I don't think I am alone in saying that the worst thing about web advertising is how suspiciously well-informed websites' selection of ads seems to be. The event that led me to start using AdBlockPlus for Firefox was as follows: after doing some research on a recent war, I returned to Facebook to find my page on the social media site now displayed ads plugging Russian handguns. This was, of course, not something I appreciated.

AdBlock Plus for Firefox does a lot more than simply blocking ads…

The fact of the matter is as advertising finds value in personalization, the industry becomes as invasive as legally possible – and, as usual, the only way for us users to step away from this game we never asked to play is to take it upon ourselves to protect our internet environment. This is where great Mozilla add ons like AdBlock Plus for Firefox come in – they are not just about polishing your free web browsing experience, they are about providing a reliable way to block internet tracking and guard you against the computer privacy issues commonplace in the web today. Many don't realize this, but it is often a cookie or tracking pixel (a.k.a. web beacon or tracking bug) embedded in the ads themselves that allow ad personalization to occur. Block the ad, and you block the tracking pixel.

What is Adblock Plus Firefox and How do I Get It?

AdBlock Plus for Firefox is a free Mozilla extension – a small piece of software designed to modify the way Firefox works, which can be found and installed through the Mozilla add ons menu (in the browser itself). An alternative installation option is just to visit the Firefox AdbBlock Plus website and download it directly from there: www.adblockplus.org/en.

Once activated, this Mozilla adblocker is integrated into your browser, and all its settings are controlled through Firefox's Add Ons menu. It may be simply and easily disabled from this menu also.

What Exactly Does Firefox Adblock Plus Do?

In basic terms, when Firefox AdBlock Plus is activated, it prevents obtrusive adverts from being displayed on any web page you visit. This means no flash-based ads with embedded video and audio, no Flash games, no pop ups, and no over-reaching banner ads. It even means no prerolls – the video adverts that appear in the first 30 seconds of many YouTube and other video services.

The recent versions of this particular Firefox adblocker are defaulted to only block these obtrusive ads, not ALL ads. This conservative move came in response to criticism that if everyone used an adblocker to block all ads, it would kill the advertising industry and, with it, the internet as we know it. With the current version of this Firefox extension, a user has the choice to block every single ad, a feature activated through the Firefox adblocker's settings, or to select certain sites where you'd like advertising to continue uninterrupted. For more information on configuring Adblock plus Firefox, see below: How do I configure Adblock plus Firefox according to my preferences?

How Does a Firefox Adblocker Block Tracking and Protect My Privacy?

In most web-based advertising a tracking pixel (also known as a web bug/beacon or tracking bug) is placed on your machine to monitor which other sites you browse to. It contributes to a wider picture of your web activity taken from the hundreds of affiliate tracking bugs hidden in other sites – all feeding tracking information on you back into the same advertising database. Because advertisers then share this information through syndicates, a very full and, many say, invasive picture of your online behaviour can be put together without your knowledge or consent. The issue is made worse by the fact this tracking is, of course, not conducted by the sites you choose to visit but by third parties advertising on those sites – and often the vetting process for the identity or agenda of these third parties is far from adequate, meaning you never quite know who ends up receiving your information.

Cookies are used in tandem with web bugs to accrue the same kind of information gathered by the web beacons. They too are placed on your computer through adverts and are also used to ensure you leave a digital fingerprint wherever you subsequently go.

When using a Firefox adblocker, however, the adverts you choose to block are not downloaded on to your machine at all. As so, you are able to block tracking by any tracking pixel or cookie that might be housed in a site's ads.

To further guard your privacy, you may choose to use a VPN service for all your internet activity (see idcloak's site for more information). Doing so means your IP address is not disclosed while surfing, and no site or service you visit will know who you are unless you identify yourself by other means (e.g., by logging in to the site).


Part II: More FAQs: Firefox Adblock Plus

Written by: 
Robin Welles; expats team, internet security team