Back at using a proper content blocker on Safari

Earlier this month, I wrote a post describing the way I may be overthinking about content blockers. In a nutshell, I feel bad for specifically blocking ads and using an extension on my browser to hurt the business models of many, many websites. This is why I switched to a JavaScript blocker — JavaSnipt — instead of a “true” content blocker. This placebo effect worked on me because that way I was not precisely targeting ads, but just the technology they rely on, which somehow felt more “ethical.”

Well, after a full week, turns out it doesn’t really work. I just reinstalled Giorgio Calderolla’s Wipr: proper content blockers are just better at blocking specific content than a blind JavaScript blocker not built for that, who knew?

With this JavaScript blocker, too many times I had to reload the website without the content blocker to be able to be able to do what I intended. I added quite a lot of my regularly visited websites to the “allow list” of JavaSnipt, but for occasionally visited websites, a simple reload was faster, when it worked. Sometimes Safari reloaded the page but the JavaScript wasn’t working. So I had to reload again: once with content blockers, and once again without. I had to do this several times a day, which is clearly not sustainable. I could have used the “block list” instead and use this extension differently, but then it would lose its purpose of being a privacy-protection tool.

It turns out many, many websites use JavaScript, and many of them don’t work at all without it. From hamburger menus to simple search fields, most of the things that arguably make the modern web don’t work without JavaScript. Some websites obviously don’t work, like Netflix, YouTube, or Feedbin; these are more web apps than websites at this point.

Most news sites I read turned out to work just fine without JavaScript: the New York Times, the Guardian and France 24 worked fine. It even removed the nasty, awful, horrible, disgusting Taboola/Outbrain links. But most of my daily web activities — like the Onion’s slideshows — required that I clicked on the “Reload without content blocker” menu item: an item that is conveniently located behind a long press on the Safari “reload arrow” button on the Mac, but not on iOS for some reason, where it is instead listed in the iOS-exclusive “Aa” menu. Get your shit together Apple.

So this is me back at using a proper content blocker. Like I said in a post from last year, privacy-protection wishes aside, it is pretty much impossible to enjoy the web today without one:

In many ways, browsing the web is a lot like driving a car, getting from point A to point B, following a path through a series of signs. […]

Browsing the web is like that, but instead of cruising on a nice highway in your comfortable car, you’re behind the wheel of a kart on Rainbow Road, and it’s the final lap.

Earlier today, I reinstalled the excellent Wipr on my Mac and on my iPhone. JavaSnipt is a good extension, but JavaScript blockers are apparently not well suited to be used as a content blocker replacement, trust me on that. Maybe next time I’ll try something like NextDNS, which seems to be an interesting project and promising alternative to content blockers, even if for now it seems to have a conflict with iCloud Private Relay.