How to pick the right iOS 9 content blocker for you

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Content-blocking apps are soaring in popularity now that iOS 9 is out.
Content-blocking apps are soaring in popularity now that iOS 9 is out.
Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

Figuring out which content-blocking apps you want is going to be tough with so many of them vying for your attention. Which one should you choose?

A day after iOS 9 made content blockers possible, we’ve got Purify, Peace, Crystal, Silentium, Blockr, Freedom, Blockr and 1Blocker, just to name a few.

These apps are garnering a ton of attention and reaching the top of the paid app charts. With so many content blockers out there, what’s the difference? Why choose one over the other? It’s so confusing, so we did a little digging. Here’s what we’ve found out.

Each of these new apps do similar things: They allow you to block ads and tracking software. Most of them allow some sort of whitelisting, too, to “un-block” certain sites that you want to support with your advertising impressions (Cult of Mac appreciates it!).

How iOS 9 content blockers work

The difference comes down to what each iOS 9 content blocker uses to decide what to block on each site.

“Most ad blockers use public ‘hosts’ files, advertising thousands of entries in their blocklists,” writes Marco Arment, maker of Peace. He tested a ton of hosts databases but found them all wanting except for Ghostery, which blocks ads and trackers on Safari on the Mac. Peace, therefore, uses Ghostery’s database.

“Ghostery blocked more trackers and had fewer compatibility problems,” says Arment, “with a reasonably sized blocklist of about 2,000 entries.”

Should you purchase Peace right now? Maybe not, says Chris Aljoudi, creator of rival content blocker Purify. He says Purify shows a dramatic difference in performance, lowering load times of common sites significantly.

“Purify uses a completely custom, hand-curated list designed specifically for mobile,” he says. “The list is heavily optimized for performance on iOS — and this results in dramatic performance differences.”

He says he’s tested his own app against Peace and Crystal. According to his data, Purify loads mobile sites much faster.

The folks at Silentium have faith in their design choices, too. Francesco Di Lorenzo of the Silentium team says their app is more effective because it uses fewer developer resources.

“[Other apps] use a manual approach that we think is neither sustainable nor effective,” says Lorenzo, “[whereas] we built our list fine-tuning publicly available lists like the EasyList.”

Which iOS 9 content blocker is right for you?

Ultimately, your mileage will vary. Your choice of content blocker will depend on what sites you visit as well as how aggressively you want to block advertising, analytics and tracking. A set of ethical principles inform Peace’s design; the app even blocks ads that appear on Arment’s own site. Update: Arment has pulled Peace from the App Store.

The developers of Silentium and Purify have been very responsive to our emails; they seem like they want the best for consumers, while allowing people to choose to whitelist favorite sites to ensure continued support.

Some content blockers are free to download, but to get the full host of features, you’ll need to pay up via in-app purchase (1Blocker) and some won’t let you whitelist sites (Blockr, Crystal). That’s a feature that we all can get behind, as it allows you to support sites you read often by allowing the advertising and analytics through.

It’s a new era on the web; with all the attention paid to content blocking, it’s going to get tricky for many web publishers to continue to use advertising in the way they have. Using a content blocker is a statement from consumers. Publishers and advertising networks are going to have to monitor the evolving situation and probably adjust how they do business.