How many times have you followed a link to an article – only to be met with your speakers unexpectedly blaring? Next thing you know, pop-ups appear all across your screen and in your haste to close them your mouse accidentally runs over an ad that bursts to life and an inescapable autoplay video follows you as you scroll down the webpage. And when you finally manage to close all the pop-ups, you find yourself too irritated to read the article that prompted the ad attack.
This is the reality for Internet users everywhere. With everyone migrating towards connected lifestyles, pop-ups, alerts and autoplay videos are now our new daily annoyances. Luckily, the most popular web browsers have settings that will help you silence all this unwanted noise as well as free third-party add-ons that help you conquer ad attacks that seem to plague all corners of the Internet. Provided are a few tips on how to restore your online peace and quiet in Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, and a list of helpful third-party add-ons for maximum silence.
Chrome comes with a strong first line of defense: the ability to mute specific tabs. When a page starts playing sound, a small speaker icon will appear on the right-hand side of the page’s tab. Users who right-click on the tab, can then choose ‘Mute Site,’ which will immediately shut up the page and turn the speaker icon into a silent speaker, which is indicated by a line slashing through the speaker. This will allow users to peacefully browse the site without having to go out their way to locate the ads or videos playing sound. Chrome will even remember this move and if the user opens any pages that share the same domain, chrome will launch the page with the mute option turned on. To unmute, simply right-click a muted tab and select ‘Unmute Site’.
However, to really make a preemptive strike, users need to prevent videos from autoplaying. In the latest version of Chrome, the browser automatically disables autoplay unless the video is muted or the user has expressed a specific interest in watching it. To make sure you have this iteration of Chrome (which is version 64), hit the menu button (indicated by the three vertical dots found in the right-hand corner of the browser) and select ‘Help’ > ‘About Google Chrome’. From there, a user can download the latest version of Chrome if necessary.
Sometimes, autoplay can still find ways to sneak back onto the screen. To fully block them, users will need to tweak Chrome’s default settings – which can easily be done. In a new tab, type “chrome://flags” into the address bar. Search for “autoplay,” and you’ll find Autoplay policy option with a drop-down list next to it. Select Document user activation is required from the list to ensure that videos will not play until you interact with them, which would be done by clicking on the video.
For notifications, as sites request to send you notifications, you can deny them individually. Or you can automatically deny all of them and opt out of these requests entirely: Open a new tab and enter “chrome://settings/content/notifications.” Turn off the top toggle switch, and you won’t get pestered again.
Persistent pop-up window are a pain. To suppress them, start by opening the Chrome Settings tab: Clicking the menu button (three dots) in the top right corner and choosing Settings. Click Advanced, then Content Settings, and set the Popups value to Blocked. Should some pop-ups still get through, enlist the help of a third-party extension. Two of the best in the business are Popup Blocker Pro and Pop Up Blocker for Chrome. Both function similarly; they will let you browse sites without interruptions and send you notifications when they squish pop-ups.
Silencing pages in Firefox is very similar to Google Chrome. Users will find an audio icon on the offending tab and once they click on the icon, the tab will be muted. Silence can also be achieved by right-clicking on the tab header found along the top of the browser and choosing the option ‘Mute Tab.’
To shutdown autoplaying videos, Firefox users should open a new tab and type “about:config” into the address bar. Then, using the search function at the top to search the list for the “media.autoplay.enabled” item, and then double-click it to change its value to false.
Once users have changed this setting, videos with the newer HTML5 format (used for YouTube’s clips) should no longer run automatically, however, older Flash videos may still start without warning. To pause these as well, click the Firefox menu button (three horizontal lines) in the top right, choose Add-ons, and click and Plugins. Find the entry labelled Shockwave Flash and set the drop-down menu on the right-hand side to Ask to Activate.
Very similar to Google’s Chrome, Firefox lets sites pepper you with alerts—after asking if you want to allow or block notifications for each site. Note, that this move can always be undone. To revoke them for specific domains, open the Firefox menu, choose Preferences followed by Privacy & Security, and click Settings next to Notifications to revoke permissions for certain sites.
If you want to shut down these requests before they happen, Firefox lets you do that too. Open a new tab and enter “about:config” in the address bar. Use the search bar at the top to look for “dom.webnotifications.enabled” and double-click that value to set it to false. This will block every site, even ones to which you previously gave permission, from creating any kind of notification.
Firefox can shut down most pop-up windows. To block them, open the Firefox menu and click Preferences, followed by Privacy & Security. Then tick the box marked Block pop-up windows. If sites manage to bypass Firefox’s built-in protection, download a third-party add-on to keep a lid on pop-ups. The straightforward Popup Blocker Ultimate should be able to deal with any pop-ups that Firefox misses, and Strict Pop-up Blocker, which is even simpler to use, won’t allow any kind of pop-up through.
If a site plays audio in Safari, you’ll see a speaker icon appear in the address bar. For the current tab, this icon appears blue, and for background ones, it is white with a blue outline. Click the blue icon to mute the current window, or to keep audio playing in the current tab but not any background ones, [Option+click] the blue speaker icon in any tab, primary or background, to mute it. Another speaker icon will appear on the right-hand edge of an individual tab, and click these icons to mute windows one by one.
To deal with autoplaying videos, go to the menu bar at the top of the screen, click Safari, and choose Preferences, followed by Websites. Click Auto-Play, scroll down to When visiting other websites, and choose Never Auto-Play from the drop-down menu next to it. You will also see a list above the When visiting other websites option, which you can edit to exclude certain sites from this blanket ban.
Users can also set autoplay options for specific websites. Open a site in your browser, click the Safari menu, and choose Settings for This Website. A dialog box will appear, with a drop-down menu at the bottom. Use this to choose between all videos playing automatically, no videos playing automatically, or only muted videos playing automatically.
To display notifications and push alerts, websites must ask you for permission. You can turn them all down in one fell swoop: Open the Safari menu and choose Preferences, then Websites, and finally Notifications. Here, untick the box marked Allow websites to ask for permission to send push notifications. In the same menu, Safari also lets you change the notification permissions for individual sites.
Safari should automatically deal with most of the unwanted pop-up boxes that try to appear. To make sure pop-up blocking is active, open the Safari menu, choose Preferences, click Security, and make sure the Block pop-up windows option is ticked.
Because Safari doesn’t have as many extensions as Chrome and Firefox do, you’ll find fewer add-ons for dealing with the pop-ups that Safari misses. However, Adblock does work with Safari. In addition to blocking pop-ups, it will help you manage unwanted ads and other distractions—just remember to whitelist your favorite sites so they can still get ad revenue.
To ensure peace and quiet on the Internet, you can also download free-to-use third-party applications. Some of the most popular privacy applications are:
AdBlocker Plus – A browser extension among Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Android users. Its primary purpose is to remove all intrusive advertisements from your browsing experience, such as: YouTube video ads, Facebook ads, banners, pop-ups, pop-unders, background ads, etc.
uBlock Origin – An open source ad blocker that claims fast, memory-efficient, and lightweight operations. The program comes with filter lists for removing tracking servers, malware domains and more. uBlock Origin is available as a simple browser extension for several of the most popular browsers.
Ghostery – This is perhaps the most robust and interactive ad-blocker among them all. Ghostery promotes faster, safer and smarter web browsing, but also allows users to select personal settings. When browsing a site, through the Ghostery widget, users will not only be able to take control of annoying pop-up ads, but will be able to see what companies are tracking their online movement. From there, users will be able to select wether to pause/resume blocking, mark a site as a trusted site that the user will allow tracking and pop-ups from, or restrict a site from accessing any of the user’s personal information and web movement.