You’re feeding YouTube precisely what they need to make money off of you. Here’s how to hide YouTube history and search privately:
- Turn on YouTube’s mobile Incognito mode.
- Pause watch history on desktop browsers.
- Clear comments, watch and search history.
- Clear your liked videos.
- Unsubscribe from all channels.
- Clear your “Watch Later” list and delete all playlists.
- Use your browser’s incognito/private mode.
- Dedicate a separate browser for YouTube.
- Try out Invidious.
- Install Privacy Redirect.
- Switch to NewPipe or SkyTube on Android or Musi on iOS.
- Hide your location.
- Check out alternative video platforms.
I’ve numbered0 each of the options below to help you identify and select items.
Hide Your History Using YouTube’s Tools
YouTube offers several privacy settings allowing users to control their data on the site. We’ll divide these levels into three categories based on how secure and private you wish to be.
Quick Private Watching
YouTube’s Android and iOS apps have a built-in, incognito mode1. While this option is enabled, the app will not record search or watch history from this point forward. Activating this mode is an excellent way to watch videos when you don’t want to feed the YouTube algorithm.
Here’s how to activate Incognito Mode on Android. The iOS steps are similar.
- Open the YouTube mobile app.
- Tap your profile photo in the upper-right corner of the screen.
- Tap the “Turn on Incognito” option.
To turn off Incognito, tap the spy icon/profile icon in the upper-right and choose “Turn off Incognito”.
Unfortunately, Incognito Mode is not available on desktop browsers. However, you can pause your YouTube history on desktop browsers2.
- Go to your YouTube History page by expanding the left sidebar using the button menu or simply click here.
- On the right-hand sidebar click the PAUSE WATCH HISTORY option.
- Click the PAUSE button in the pop-up confirmation.
Each week, I clear all my Google history. I used to keep my YouTube data. I wanted to ensure that the YouTube recommendation engine was able to serve new videos related to my interests.
For giggles, I decided to see what my YouTube experience was like after clearing my YouTube watch history, search history, and comments3. Only my subscriptions remained for the algorithm to decide what might be interesting to me.
Some of the recommended videos were in-line with the channels to which I already subscribed. Other content included videos that I had already watched and related content based on my location.
The surprising result was that YouTube began offering subjects that I had not thought about in a long time, but included content in which I was tangentially interested. It’s great to pop the filter bubble that I had been living in.
Here’s how to clear your history options and comments on a desktop browser.
To clear your YouTube
- Watch History, click the CLEAR ALL WATCH HISTORY link.
- Search History, click the CLEAR ALL SEARCH HISTORY link.
- Comments, click the three-dot overflow button menu next to each comment, then choose Delete. This must be done on individual video comments.
Clearing your YouTube “likes” history4 is a bit more involved.
- Go to your Liked videos page.
- Click the three-dot overflow menu on each Liked video.
- Select the Remove from Liked videos option.
To watch some of these steps in this article, refer to this YouTube video.
For those wanting the best level of privacy while viewing YouTube content, we need to remove subscriptions and playlists, including the all-important “Watch Later” list.
Unfortunately, YouTube removed the ability to export your subscriptions from the old Subscription Manager.
- Go to your Channels list page.
- Highlight, copy this list to your clipboard
- Open your digital notebook and paste them for safekeeping.
- We’ll use them later
- Yes. Manually handling this list is a pain. Keeping this list outside of Google’s control reduces your reliance on the service and lets you take back control of your data and privacy.
- Yes. Your subscriptions are listed in a Google Takeout export. Both NewPipe and SkyTube (discussed later) can import this subscriptions.json file. For most users, this file is incomplete and more hassle than worth it.
- Think of this as a good way to remove some of your unwatched subscriptions and digital detox.
Unsubscribing from your subscriptions5 is a manual process on both desktop and mobile platforms. Again, the Subscription Manager provides a one-page location to unsubscribe from all your channels.
YouTube also gains insights into your interests by looking at the playlists you’ve created and what videos you’ve added to them. The platform considers your “Watch Later” list to be the most important. This system-controlled playlist influences your recommendations. By clearing and discontinuing playlist use6, you’ll reduce what you feed the algorithm.
After clearing my subscriptions and playlists, I noticed that YouTube began uncovering new channels that I hadn’t considered.
Hide YouTube History Using Your Tools
Another option is to start using tools that are not developed by YouTube. There is a growing community of developers offering tools and services that add a layer of privacy to your searches and watch history when you can’t trust YouTube’s privacy settings or history controls.
Watch YouTube Content
The most comfortable and convenient option is to watch YouTube content privately is to use your browser’s private or incognito mode7. Launching a new window with this mode activated provides a clean slate as long as you do not log into YouTube during your session.
You’ll end up with the same result as described in the Quick Private Watching section above. But in this case, you control the incognito session via your browser instead of trusting that YouTube’s Incognito Mode is doing what you expected.
To take this one step further, we employ compartmentalization. We’ll designate a separate browser for use with YouTube8.
I recommend using Bromite or Firefox Focus/Klar on your mobile device. Bromite uses a modified version of the open-source Chromium browser which is spearheaded by Google. Firefox Klar (also called Firefox Focus) is from Mozilla. You can find both either on the Google Play Store or preferably using the F-Droid app.
If having multiple browsers is a bit of a pain, we can use alternative platforms and tools to continue to watch YouTube content while gaining back privacy.
The site Invidious9 is an alternative web front-end for watching YouTube videos outside of YouTube’s site. The service offers the ability to create playlists, review and clear your watch history, add subscriptions, and many other functions you’d expect. This reduces much of the visibility YouTube has on your habits.
Privacy Redirect10 is a Chrome/Brave extension and Firefox add-on that redirects YouTube links automatically to Invidious. The browser extension also swaps the YouTube embedded video players inserted on webpages displaying the Invidious player instead. Privacy Redirect takes over these in-page video frames.
On mobile devices, it is often easier to use a dedicated video app. Unfortunately, the mobile YouTube app collects its fair share of data to report to YouTube.
On Android and iOS devices, it’s not possible to uninstall the YouTube app. You can disable it and use an alternative app.
For Android, check out NewPipe & SkyTube11. You can get NewPipe and SkyTube from the F-Droid app store. Once you familiarize yourself with the layout, you’ll find these are good replacements. Transitioning to an alternative mobile app adds a better offline video experience, faster playback speeds, and the ability to backup, import, and export your data.
YouTube has visibility on location. After clearing all the other portions of my YouTube metadata, YouTube began to offer me location-specific videos. I’m currently in the Netherlands, so most of my recommendations were Dutch language-based videos.
The ideal configuration is to use the Tor network with a browser that’s not logged into Google. Watching videos this way provides the best anonymity. Be aware that connection speed or bandwidth may be limited while using Tor due to the nature of the network of private servers. You may need to lower the video quality or let video content buffer for smooth playback.
Sidebar: I have a always-up-to-date list of recommended technology here.
Watch Videos on Other Platforms
The size of YouTube’s content library and many creators is currently unmatched. There are several up-and-coming alternative video platforms13 to keep an eye on:
- LBRY is the first serious competitor to YouTube. Some YouTube creators mirror their content to this site where there’s no censorship or advertising. The community is working to increase the quality of the video creations.
- Nebula is a joint venture between Standard TV and a group of independent, high-quality video creators. The service is ad-free relying on paid subscribers for it to offer privacy-respecting viewing.
- Vimeo has a small selection of videos that are freely available to watch.
- Peertube is a decentralized video platform where users host small portions of the video content, ensuring no centralized authority.
- DTube is another decentralized video platform. It uses a blockchain cryptocurrency model to reward and content curation.
Can People View My YouTube History?
Let’s explore the groups of people that may be able to view your YouTube history. I’ve broken them down into the most popular questions that come up.
Can parents see YouTube history?
Yes. Parents with a child’s Google account credentials can review watch and search history along with likes, comments, and subscriptions.
For parents wishing to restrict what your child watches on YouTube, the platform offers the YouTube Kids app for both Android and iOS. This app is more straightforward for children to use and filters content to those videos appropriate for young viewers.
Can your Internet Service Provider (ISP) see your YouTube history?
Your ISP can see that you’re watching YouTube. They are unable to see which videos you view or any searches, likes, subscribes, etc. Some ISPs throttle or reduce the speed of YouTube traffic at times.
A VPN connection will hide your YouTube traffic from your ISP.
Can people on the same Wi-Fi network see YouTube history?
The average, non-technical user will likely not be able to see your YouTube history.
But with a bit of knowledge and the right software, an attacker on the same wireless network may be able to sniff all the Internet traffic, including your YouTube session. This interception skill is not too difficult to learn, and the software tools are readily available.
The owner or operator of a wireless network may also be able to see that there is YouTube traffic. They will not be able to see specific video content. Subscriptions, likes, comments, searches, etc. are also secured and cannot be viewed by the Wi-Fi owner.
A VPN connection can hide your traffic from everyone using or administering a Wi-Fi network.
Can YouTube track my history?
A VPN might stop others on the same Wi-Fi network and your ISP from seeing your YouTube history. But it can’t prevent YouTube from recording history regardless of any of the measures you’ve implemented in this article.
Since videos are centrally-hosted on YouTube-owned servers, the company collects base information like your IP address, watched videos, total watch time, and more.
Again, using the Tor browser or onion over VPN connection helps anonymize your YouTube session.
Disadvantages of Hiding Your YouTube History
Hiding your YouTube search and watch history increases your privacy, but there are some disadvantages.
Video content producers received less credit when you watch videos outside of the YouTube platform. They potentially receive less compensation for their efforts.
When you remove your YouTube metadata such as likes, subscribes, comments, and viewing history, your recommendations begin to fall outside of the YouTube algorithm. The effect is YouTube will not be able to surface new content around your interests.
YouTube has apps for almost every platform. Watching videos outside of one of their official apps can be inconvenient and takes a little more effort. Initially, it’s tough not to have all of your subscriptions, recommendations, playlists, and the like conveniently synchronized across all devices.
Gaining privacy and control of your data might be a worthy trade-off for convenience. You may also choose to support your favorite video content creators via other methods like Patreon.com or private contributions via the BAT cryptocurrency and the Brave browser.
Right now, YouTube is the dominant force for user-generated video content despite new services entering the market. And while YouTube has done a fair job at providing users tools to manage privacy, it is mostly paying lip service to satisfy some users and regulators.
It may be better to take control of our YouTube history and metadata by using some of the 13 options outlined.
I spend a fair amount of time watching YouTube content. I used to protect my likes, comments, subscriptions, and viewing history during my weekly Google cleanup. Now with the tools listed in this article, it’s easier to take control of my data and privacy.