It’s common knowledge that Google tracks nearly everything we do on the internet, including the YouTube videos we watch. They have a detailed profile on every one of us which is used to sell targeted advertisements, serve personalized search results, and is likely used for other undisclosed purposes. All of this data is extremely powerful and in aggregate leads to Google knowing the average person better than their closest friends and family members, arguably even better than they know themselves.
There is a growing population of people who are sickened by Google’s monopoly and are seeking alternative solutions that avoid handing over their personal data. Previously, we covered all the reasons why you might want to avoid Google’s tracking, which you can view here.
Although many people don’t know it, Google owns YouTube, and everything you search for and watch on YouTube is aggregated with everything else Google knows about you. Even if you are not signed in, it’s very possible that Google can identify you with browser cookies and fingerprinting. On top of that, YouTube has gotten more and more aggressive with their advertisements so that you even have to watch an ad in the middle and at the end of some videos.
Maybe you want to watch videos on a sensitive topic like on a medical or psychological condition. Maybe the advertisements on YouTube are driving you crazy and you want to find a way to skip them. Maybe you want to be able to download videos and watch them offline for personal use, and you don’t intend to redistribute them or violate any copyright laws. Or, maybe you want to watch a competitors videos, or videos from someone you know, but don’t want to add to their view count or subscriber count. So, how can we watch YouTube videos truly anonymously and privately?
The best way to watch YouTube videos anonymously and privately is to use third-party wrappers like NewPipe for Android and FreeTube for Windows, macOS, and Linux. These third-party applications will serve the same YouTube content while avoiding all the invasive tracking and irritating advertisements by Google.
With these methods, you’ll be able to:
- Subscribe to channels without signing in to an account
- Bypass all YouTube advertisements
- Download YouTube videos
- Manage history and make custom playlists
- Avoid adding to the video view count
Notably, you won’t be able to:
- Comment on or Like videos
- Support creators who have monetized their videos through advertisements
For me, the pros of using these methods to watch YouTube content far outweigh the cons. Not being able to comment on videos avoids the temptation to over-share and potentially reveal personal information. And, if you still want to support your favorite creators monetarily, many channels have established ways to donate and give feedback directly to the creator, such as through Patreon.
YouTube Clients For Android
NewPipe is an open source mobile application only available on Android through the alternative app store F-Droid. It has a clean interface and smooth user experience, including dark mode. With this app you’ll be able to manage subscriptions, bookmark playlists, download videos for offline viewing, and play videos in the background and in a pop-up player. In addition, NewPipe supports easily importing and exporting a database of your history, subscriptions, and playlists. Make sure to add the NewPipe repository to F-Droid in order to get the latest updates.
YouTube Clients For Desktop
Freetube is an open-source, cross-platform desktop client application for serving YouTube content. It runs on Windows, MacOS, and Linux operating systems. The application is smooth with a modern user interface and dark themes. It supports playlists, watch history, video downloads, a pop-up player, and import and export of subscriptions and history. Optionally, you can serve content via an Invidious instance or through the local API.
youtube-dl is a command-line interface client to download YouTube videos for Windows, macOS, and Linux. We only recommend this solution for advanced users that have experience and maybe even prefer to use the terminal for everyday tasks. Simply provide the URL to the video or playlist you’d like to download and the files will be saved locally. Check out the project’s documentation on GitHub for more information.
youtube-dl [OPTIONS] URL [URL...]
Follow YouTube Channels Via RSS
Another way to minimize YouTube tracking is by following channels via an RSS reader. In your favorite RSS application, simply add the channel URL to a new feed to keep track of new video uploads without having to go to the official website. If you’re on iOS, this may be your best option until a better YouTube client becomes available. Just make sure to pick a privacy-respecting reader client as now they will have access to your feed data.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use the AdBlock browser extension to block YouTube ads?
The AdBlock browser extension can block YouTube ads, but users have had mixed results. The company has also had its share of controversies regarding whitelisting “acceptable ads”. If you’re just looking for a way to block YouTube advertisements in the browser and don’t mind Google tracking, we recommend the uBlock Origin browser extension. However, your mileage may vary since YouTube is always trying to find new ways to stop its ads from being blocked.
Can I use incognito mode to avoid YouTube tracking?
The YouTube mobile app now offers an incognito mode that temporarily removes personalized recommendations based on your subscriptions and watch history, however it does not avoid overall Google tracking. It’s best to use incognito mode when you don’t want certain videos showing up in your watch history and influencing your recommendations, but if you want to be truly anonymous from Google, it’s best to use 3rd-party clients like NewPipe and FreeTube, or download videos from the command line with youtube-dl. The same is true of incognito mode in your browser.
How can I watch YouTube without giving views?
The best way to watch YouTube videos without adding to the view count is to use a 3rd-party client application like NewPipe for Android and FreeTube for Windows, macOS, and Linux. These clients will also let you subscribe to channels without adding to the subscriber count. Alternatively, you can download videos from the command line with youtube-dl without adding to any viewer statistics.
Are YouTube wrapper applications legal?
In most countries, YouTube clients like NewPipe, FreeTube, and youtube-dl are legal. They do break YouTube’s and the Google Play Store’s terms of service, however, to do so is not illegal. Because they do not use YouTube’s API, and instead simply reformat content that is publicly available on the web, these services are just as legal as your web browser.
Importantly, It is possible for a user to use these clients in a way that breaks copyright law, by downloading and redistributing or selling the video content. If you make sure that the videos you download using these clients are strictly for personal use, you shouldn’t be breaking any laws.
Please be aware that laws vary by location and you should check the local laws in your own country to determine the legality of YouTube clients. I am not a lawyer and I am not providing official legal advice.
Why is NewPipe not working?
YouTube and third-party clients like NewPipe constantly play a cat and mouse game where the clients want to scrape the publicly available content from YouTube’s website and YouTube wants to stop them. This means that NewPipe need frequent updates, and F-Droid’s longer process of vetting and building apps from the open source code doesn’t cut it. The solution is to add NewPipe’s own repository to F-Droid so that you get the updates as soon as they come out. You can view easy-to-follow instructions on how to do this here.