Blocking Ads on Student iPads

While internet content filtering is important, it doesn’t necessarily block advertisements embedded in websites, Google searches, YouTube videos, or inside apps. Most advertisements are harmless (but annoying), but do kids really need to be exposed to an onslaught of commercialism while at school? Many ads can disrupt classwork or might conflict with the school’s mission, vision, or code of ethics.

So we want to block the ads, but Safari on iOS doesn’t let you just download an AdBlock plugin like you would for a PC or Mac web browser. A few alternative browser apps have adblocking, but they aren’t the default and we can’t force students to use them. But don’t worry: we have a solution.

WebBlock is an app that lets you create a script with detailed blocking instructions. You go through the app and simply check off what you want to block: specific adservers, generic adservers, Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, tracking cookies, Hulu and Pandora ads, javascript, and more. You can also add specific websites to a “never allow” blacklist or an “always allow” white list:

I’m using it to block ads, but a school might also want to block specific sites.

Once you have checked off everything you want to block, you simply click on “Setup” on the left and copy the HTTP text they give you:

Next, you go into the iPad WiFi settings, go into the specific WiFi connection you want to apply the blocking to, and click the little “i” icon next to it:

Then, at the bottom, turn HTTP Proxy to “Auto” and paste the text you copied into the area where it asks for a URL:

The blocking settings are now applied and you will no longer see ads on websites or be able to access the stuff you blocked or blacklisted:

Before

After

The best thing about this is that the script updates automatically whenever you change the settings in the app. Want to add a website to the block list? Just type it into the app and it applies automatically. You don’t need to redo the copy/paste steps again or anything.

Now for the good news and the bad news. The good news is you don’t even need this app to be installed for its settings to work. This means that a school could install WebBlock onto a teacher’s iPad or tech admin’s iPad, set up the blocking rules, and then just paste the script URL into the WiFi settings of all the students’ iPads. The rules will apply even to these other iPads that don’t have the app installed. At the drop of a hat, the teacher or admin could add websites to the block list and it would automatically apply to the students the next time they loaded up Safari or any other app (reloading the app is the only requirement for the updated settings to start applying).

The bad news is that you need to paste the script URL into each WiFi connection separately. This means that the blocking will work at school because the school will paste the URL into the connection settings before the students ever receive the iPads, but if the iPads are taken home and connect to students’ home WiFi, the settings will no longer apply (unless they knew to go and paste the URL into the settings for this new connection). Unfortunate, but a school can’t really control what kids do at home. Educate the parents about this though and they might be able to set it up for their home connections if needed.

Three final notes: (1) Upon returning to the school and reconnecting to the school WiFi after taking the iPad home, the blocking will resume working. You won’t need to reapply the settings again. (2) This app is useful, but should not replace robust content filtering for the school’s internet. This just helps catch the ads that fall through the cracks and provides a level of redundency. (3) This doesn’t work with a cell data connection, so it won’t help a parent block their teenager’s iPhone.

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