YouTube is the world’s most visited video-sharing website, and one of the front pages of the internet. On average each visitor spends around 20 minutes per day on the site.
It’s also owned by Alphabet, the umbrella company that operates the leading Google search engine, and handles most of our email through Gmail. Trying to prevent Google from knowing about you is difficult given its ubiquity, but if you want to keep your YouTube habits separate from your banking details, search history and work email, there are some workarounds.
What YouTube knows about your viewing
What you watch on YouTube is highly personal: searching for health advice can reveal your medical history; watching political videos may reveal how you intend to vote. Your viewing can reveal your interests, hobbies, likes and dislikes. Unsurprisingly, Google’s eyes are omnipresent. You can find out how omnipresent it is by visiting the Data and privacy
If you watch YouTube while logged into your account, and you haven’t turned off the YouTube history tracking option – which we’ll show you how to do later – then you’ll see all the YouTube videos you’ve watched, alongside the other ways you interact with Google.
It’s likely a long list, of which YouTube is only one part. To see just the YouTube activity, you can click on Filter by date & product at the top of the page, and then select YouTube only. That will show you all the videos you’ve watched.
Delete your YouTube history
You can also look at your watch history on the YouTube website itself. Visiting your user library will show you a range of different bits of information about you. Alongside your watch history, you’ll also see playlists you’ve subscribed to, anything you have added to your Watch Later list, and all the videos you’ve liked. In addition, this page shows how many channels you subscribe to and how many videos – if any – you’ve uploaded yourself.
On YouTube’s Watch history page there are more specific tools you can utilise to manage the videos you’ve watched. You can clear all your history using the bar that appears on the right-hand side, or pause your watch history temporarily – useful for that guilty Taylor Swift binge session that you don’t want anyone else to know about. You can also delete videos that appear in your watch history that you no longer want to be associated with you by tapping the three vertical dots
If you choose to delete any part of your watch history, it’ll repeat that across all devices on which you’re logged in to YouTube. And it goes without saying that if you’re logged in across all devices, whatever you watch on your laptop or mobile device feeds into the recommendations shown on your YouTube app on TV, and vice versa. If you want to break that link, simply log out of one or the other.
Stop YouTube knowing where you are
YouTube also uses location data, where available, to present you with tailored recommendations based on videos popular with people nearby you. The company cites the example of showing you news videos relevant to where you are in the world. It gathers this data in different ways depending on the way you’re accessing YouTube.
If you’re on your phone, and have location switched on, it’ll use your GPS data. If you don’t, it’ll identify your location by the access points you utilise to get connected to the internet. If you’re at home, it’ll use your IP address. If you’re not keen on this, you can turn off your location history through the Your data in YouTube page.
Delete your YouTube search history
That’s the videos you watch. But Google also tracks your YouTube search history. Google’s dedicated YouTube History page shows all your activity and allows you to toggle whether your YouTube search and watch history is on or off.
Crucially, this page also includes an option for auto-deleting records of your YouTube activity. It probably won’t surprise you to learn this is switched off by default, but you can choose to auto-delete activity every three, 18 or 36 months. Just as with your watch history, you can also temporarily pause your YouTube search history.
All of this data is used, Google says, to give users “more personalised experiences, like better content recommendations and the ability to pick up where you left off”.