YouTube is the world’s second-largest search engine. How many videos have you searched for this week? How would you feel if someone used your device, or hacked your account, and saw the list of videos you’ve watched, and searches you’ve done?
Maybe you’ve uploaded your own videos to YouTube, for others to find and watch. How would you feel if you found out that several of the videos you thought were private were actually public, and had been viewed by hundreds of people?
Did you know YouTube is owned by Google? Google knows more about you than almost any other entity on Earth, including governments.
Google is known for building strong security into its software. However, Google is also known for not respecting user privacy. As an advertising company, it’s in Google’s best interests to collect data about its users and use that data for its advertising.
For these reasons, it’s critical that you know how to use YouTube more privately. Let’s walk through them.
This guide shows the full, desktop version of the YouTube website. The steps will be similar for the mobile website and YouTube apps. The links throughout the guide will take you directly to the pages referenced.
YouTube Account Settings
In the top right corner of the YouTube website, click your profile photo in the top right corner of the screen, then click the settings gear icon. You’ll see a menu on the left side of the screen with various categories of settings.
In the menu on the left side of the screen, click Privacy.
Under Likes and subscriptions, check the box for any items you’d like to keep private. The choices are liked videos, saved playlists, and subscriptions. I recommend checking all the boxes, then clicking Save.
YouTube keeps track of your activity. You can delete individual items, clear all past items, or disable (pause) history entirely. I recommend disabling history unless there’s a reason you really need it. If you choose not to do that, at least consider deleting some or all of the past items.
In the middle of the screen you’ll see individual items, if your history hasn’t been cleared or paused. To delete an item, hover over it, and click the X.
Clear erases all past items of that type, but new items will be saved. Pause will prevent future activity from being saved, but will not erase your past activity.
Clear and/or pause for each history type you wish.
Set Visibility of Videos You Upload
When you upload a video to YouTube, you choose its visibility (privacy). Here are the options, with descriptions from YouTube:
- Public: “can be seen by anyone at YouTube. They can also be shared with anyone using YouTube. They’re posted on your channel when you upload them and show up in search results and related video lists.”
- Unlisted: “can be seen and shared by anyone with the link. Your unlisted videos won’t appear to others who visit the ‘Videos’ tab of your channel page. They won’t show up in YouTube’s search results unless someone adds your unlisted video to a public playlist. You can share an unlisted video’s URL with other users. The people you share the video with don’t need a Google Account to see the video. Anyone with the link can also re-share it.
- Private: can only be seen by you and the users you choose. Your private videos won’t appear to others who visit the ‘Videos’ tab of your channel page. They also won’t show up in YouTube’s search results.”
- Scheduled: “schedule a private video to go public at a specific time.”
You can change the visibility of videos you’ve previously uploaded in YouTube Studio > Videos.
Using YouTube in Private Browsing
Another way to keep your YouTube activity from appearing in your YouTube account is to use YouTube in a private browsing window (called Incognito Mode in Google Chrome).
Simply open a new private browsing window and go to YouTube.com, but don’t sign into your account. YouTube will treat you like a stranger; you won’t see anything you’ve saved in your YouTube account, and nothing you do will be saved to your account.
Using Your YouTube Account Safely
The security of your YouTube account largely depends on the security of your Google account. Be sure to follow my Google Account Security & Privacy Guide.
If you use someone else’s device (computer, phone, tablet, etc.) to log into YouTube, be sure to log out when you’re finished! Otherwise, the other person can use YouTube as you after you leave.