AdGuard claims to be the ‘world’s most advanced ad blocker.’ In many ways, the company lives up to the hype, all the while dealing with misconceptions.

Few things are more frustrating than trying to browse a website, only to have large portions of your screen real estate taken up by intrusive ads. Even on the biggest monitor, ads can still be a major nuisance in the best-case scenario. Even worse, companies use ads to track your movements as you browse the web, building a profile of your purchases, habits and interests. Worst-case scenario, some ads can contain malware, putting your computer at even greater risk.

It’s little wonder that ad blockers have become a staple for discerning web users around the world, with a myriad of available options. The different blockers range from free to expensive, and from basic browser extensions to full-fledged applications that protect all your activity, both in and outside of a web browser.

One of the more popular choices of ad blockers is AdGuard. Around for more than a decade, AdGuard has gone on to encompass a suite of tools, all designed to protect your web browser, computer and other devices from ads.

AdGuard’s Background

AdGuard was founded in 2009 in the Moscow area, with its first office in one of the co-founder’s apartment. In the following years, the company continued to grow, rework its products, establish new offices and eventually headquarter in Cyprus in 2017. Among the reasons cited were better currency conversion, robust EU privacy laws and less accusations of being backed by Russian intelligence.

Over the years, the company has continued to expand its product line to incorporate support for multiple platforms, including macOS, Windows, iOS, Android, web browsers and more.

AdGuard for macOS and Windows

One of the key differentiators between AdGuard’s desktop apps is the comprehensive protection they offer.

Unlike a browser extension, which only protects that specific browser from ads, AdGuard’s desktop apps protect any and all applications that access the internet. That means web browsers, email, Skype, torrent clients and much more.

AdGuard for macOS has the distinction of being “the world’s first standalone ad blocker for Mac.” On macOS, in particular, this can be a big selling point since Apple changed how web browser extensions work.

As a result, many popular ad blockers either don’t work anymore, or they don’t work as well as they once did. This has led to a whole slew of ad blockers for Safari shutting down altogether. AdGuard for macOS gets around that because it’s not a browser extension. Instead, it’s a standalone application that operates independently. To make it work in Safari, simply add the browser to the list of applications for AdGuard to protect.

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The macOS and Windows versions include features that go beyond basic ad blocking, such as Browsing Security, which is designed to block phishing and other malicious websites. According to the company, AdGuard has cataloged some 15 million websites, flagging 1.5 million of them as malicious or phishing websites. Both versions also include Privacy Protection, which “protects you and your personal info from being tracked by online statistics gathering resources.”

Both desktop clients include Stealth Mode, a feature designed to prevent websites from gathering more detailed information, such as your browser, computer operating system (OS), IP address, the last website you visited, your monitor’s screen resolution and more.

AdGuard for Mobile Devices

Even many individuals who use ad and content blockers on their computers don’t think of using it on their mobile devices. Despite the fact that some mobile devices can be inherently more secure than desktop computers, ads and malware are still a major threat.

Another factor to consider is data usage. While many cellular providers are increasingly offering unlimited data plans, the carriers still reserve the right to throttle speeds if a certain data usage threshold is reached. When web browsing, a significant amount of data can be taken with unwanted ads. A content blocker can prevent that, speeding up web browsing and saving data.

Both iOS and Android are supported, although there are some differences between the two.

AdGuard for iOS

AdGuard for iOS comes in two flavors: free and AdGuard Pro. Much of the base functionality is the same but, like the desktop version, AdGuard Pro extends its protection beyond Safari, protecting all web-enabled apps and browsers.

In Default Mode, AdGuard Pro blocks ads, phishing attempts and trackers, while Family Mode takes it a step further. A good option for iOS devices that children use, Family Mode includes all the functionality of Default Mode, but also blocks adult content.

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AdGuard for Android

The Android version blocks ads, online trackers and fraudulent websites. AdGuard also works with both unrooted and rooted devices. By default, it works with unrooted Android, but can be run in the local HTTP proxy mode for use with rooted devices.

AdGuard for Android also includes a firewall. This can be especially useful in blocking apps from contacting a remote server, performing unwanted updates, or otherwise using your internet connection without your knowledge or permission.

AdGuard DNS

For individuals who don’t want to install any applications on their computer, AdGuard DNS is an option. The service is free to use and provides DNS information to replace the DNS addresses provided by your internet provider.

When your device uses AdGuard DNS, the company’s servers respond to any ad requests with an empty response. The DNS service is open source, and completely free to use for personal use.

AdGuard Home

AdGuard Home is a DNS server designed to protect your entire home network, protecting all your devices from ads and trackers. The server can be installed on a Raspberry Pi or a Virtual Private Server, and works with routers, macOS, Windows, iOS and Android.

AdGuard Browser Extensions

In addition to all of the above, AdGuard also makes traditional browser extensions. The extension blocks ads, adware installers and spyware installers. It also protects you from malware and phishing websites. As an added bonus, AdGuard works with Safari’s new extension system.

The browser extension works with the following browsers:

  • Chrome
  • Firefox
  • Microsoft Edge
  • Opera
  • Palemoon
  • Safari
  • Yandex Browser

Pricing

Several of AdGuards products, such as AdGuard DNS and the browser extensions, are completely free. Others, such as the iOS app, come in both a free or a Pro version.

For personal use, on up to three devices, an AdGuard license costs $2.49/mo, billed annually. For a family license, allowing up to nine devices, it costs $5.49, billed annually.

AdGuard also offers a lifetime option for personal and family use, for $79.99 and $169.99 respectively. The two options also include three and nine devices respectively.

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Support

The company offers email support, with 24 hour turnaround, as well as telephone support. The latter is especially welcome in an age when most internet companies offer email or live chat support only. There is also an extensive knowledge base to educate users on the finer points of how ad and content blocking works, as well as to walk them through installation.

The Elephant in the Room: Is AdGuard Safe to Use?

There’s no doubt that AdGuard is one of the most comprehensive ad and content blocking solutions on the market, with support for one of the widest arrays of browsers, computers, phones, tablets and platforms.

Why the Concerns?

Despite that, one of the biggest questions that many have is whether the company can be trusted, and whether its products are safe. At least part of that concern is driven by messages, such as those in Safari, warning that the application can read all the content of the websites you browse, including any information you submit via forms.

This can include passwords, credit card information and much more. What many people may not realize, however, is that virtually any content blocker can read the same information, and must be able to in order to do its job. This is neither unusual nor nefarious—it simply goes part and parcel with ad and content blocking.

An added reason for some of the concern is the fact that the company was founded, and initially based, in Russia. Even now, despite being headquartered in Cyprus, many of the developers still hail from Russia. In the current political climate, AdGuard isn’t the only Russian company to experience this kind of scrutiny, suspicion and prejudice. Kaspersky Lab is one of the world’s leading cybersecurity firms, yet has faced its own share of suspicion for the very same reason.

Why the Concerns Are Unwarranted

There are a number of reasons why the concern over AdGuard is overblown and unwarranted.

  • First and foremost, AdGuard has been in business for a long time, especially in the context of an internet company. Any time a company is making security software, it is often under even more scrutiny than companies in other fields. Given that AdGuard has been in operation since 2009, and is used by millions of users all over the world, if the company was doing something nefarious it would have been discovered a long time ago.
  • Second, the company provides a number of its products as free, open source products. Anyone can download the source code and review it for themselves. It is true that some of their products, such as their desktop apps, are closed source. But this is merely because they are a commercial company, and therefore are in the business of making money. That is often easier to do with closed source products, as opposed to open source. But the fact the company is willing to open source the products they don’t charge for is an excellent display of transparency, and evidence they have nothing to hide.
  • Third, the company clearly outlines their privacy policy. The long and short of it is that the company considers themselves staunch fighters for your privacy and guarantee they do not share or sell your information. Just as important, since the company is headquartered in Cyprus, they are subject to the European Union’s GDPR privacy legislation, one of the most comprehensive privacy protections in the world. Significantly, the company voluntarily moved to Cyprus specifically because they wanted their business governed by the most aggressive privacy laws in the world.

When taken together, these factors add up to a company that is ‘one of the good guys’ in the battle to protect user privacy. AdGuard is made up of professionals who take their job seriously and whose software does what it says—and is not spyware.

The Verdict

AdGuard has clearly established itself as one of the premier ad and content blocking solutions on the market. Its wide array of support for multiple platforms and devices ensure it will work for virtually anyone, regardless of their preferred computing platform.

The company also offers flexible pricing, including a welcome lifetime option. In our testing, AdGuard performed admirably, squashing ads and generally resulting in a much-improved web browsing experience.

Some individuals may question whether the company can be trusted but, looking at the evidence, it is apparent that AdGuard is exactly what it claims to be—a well-respected privacy and security firm that works hard to protect users from some of the more unsavory elements of internet life.

Overall, we wholeheartedly recommend AdGuard.

The Good

  • Comprehensive ad and content blocking solution
  • A different option for different uses cases
  • Reasonable price, including lifetime license option
  • A number of open source offerings
  • Works with Apple’s latest Safari requirements
  • Can be used to protect an entire network
  • Abides by the EU’s GDPR

The Bad

  • Nothing

The Ugly

  • Even less than nothing

Rating

  • 5 out of 5 stars

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