You follow a link to an article—and suddenly your speakers blare. Pop-ups appear on screen, you accidentally run your mouse over an ad that bursts into life, and an inescapable autoplay video follows you as you scroll down the page. You have to shut up these distractions before you can actually see the content you clicked over here to find.
Luckily, the most popular web browsers have settings that will help you silence the unwanted noise. And if they don't do the trick, you can employ third-party add-ons to take control. Here's how to restore peace and quiet in Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge.
Google's browser comes with a strong first line of defense: the ability to mute specific tabs. When a page starts playing sound, a little speaker icon will appear on that page's tab, next to the "x" on the right. If you see that icon, then right-click on the tab and choose Mute Site. This will immediately shut up the page and turn the noisy icon into a silent speaker with a line through it.
You can also use this option as a preemptive strike, muting a page before it begins making noise. Once you do, any pages that share the same domain (such as popsci.com) will launch with the mute option turned on. To unmute, right-click a muted tab and choose Unmute Site.
To really get ahead of noisy intrusions, you need to prevent videos from autoplaying. Starting with its latest version, Chrome 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, version 64, hit the menu button (three dots) on the top right corner of the window, choose Help, and click About Google Chrome. If this reveals that you've been working with version 63 or earlier, then download the latest version of Chrome.
Despite this precaution, some autoplay videos might sneak onto your screen. To block them, you'll have to tweak Chrome's settings. Open a new tab and type "chrome://flags" into the address bar. Search for "autoplay," and you'll find an 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.
When a website sends you a notification, Chrome will display it on screen. This lets apps like Gmail, which run on the web, get in touch with you. While this is a good idea in theory, in practice, it lets all sites bother you with interruptions and alerts. However, they do ask for your approval first.
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.
To silence pages in Firefox, find the audio icon on the offending tab and click on it once. Click a second time to allow audio once more. Alternatively, you can achieve the same result by right-clicking on the tab header and choosing Mute Tab.
That solution will stop tabs from surprising you out with music and other unexpected sounds—but the videos generating the noise will continue to play. To shut down autoplaying videos as well, open a new tab and type "about:config" into the address bar. Use 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 you've changed this setting, videos with the newer HTML5 format (used for YouTube's clips) should no longer run automatically, but older Flash videos still might 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.
Like Chrome, Firefox lets sites pepper you with alerts—after asking if you want to allow or block notifications for each site. You can also change your mind about these permissions. To revoke them for specific domains, open the Firefox menu like you did before, 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 for you. 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 icon. 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 you can 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.
You 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.
Last but not least, in the browser built into Windows 10, an audio icon appears on the header of any tab playing sound. You can mute pages by either clicking this icon or right-clicking the tab and selecting the Mute tab menu option.
Because Edge is a relatively new browser, its built-in features haven't quite caught up to those of its rivals. This affects your ability to prevent videos—specifically those encoded in the modern HTML5 format—from autoplaying. At the time of publication, Edge has no way to stop this type of video from starting up automatically.
However, you can block videos encoded in the older Flash format. To do this, you must disable Adobe Flash altogether: Click the menu button (three dots) in the top right corner, choose Settings, click View advanced settings, and finally turn off the Use Adobe Flash Player option. For now, that's the best you can do until Microsoft adds extra options to Edge, or a third-party produces a compatible video-blocking extension.
Like in other browsers, sites must ask for permission before they can show notifications on your screen. And if you've already granted a particular site permission, you can always change your mind. Hit the menu button on the top right, click Settings, and then choose View advanced settings. Scroll down to Notifications and hit Manage to prevent individual sites from showing messages in the future.
However, Edge doesn't let you stop websites from asking if they can show alerts in the first place. That said, significant Windows 10 upgrades usually come with new updates and features for Edge, so Microsoft might patch this hole in future versions of the browser.
What Edge does have is an integrated pop-up blocker. Go back to the View advanced settings menu mentioned above and turn on the Block pop-ups option. Now pop-up windows shouldn't interrupt your browsing.
If you'd like to back up Edge's built-in pop-up defenses, you're limited by the fact that young Edge doesn't yet have many add-ons (you can browse through the existing ones here). One of the few you might consider is Adblock, which we mentioned in the Safari section. This can block any pop-ups that Edge can't, and it will also stop other distracting ads—though you should allow sites you want to support through the filter.