How to Manage Your YouTube Privacy Settings

Smartphone with YouTube video player and privacy shield
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Summary: Improve Your YouTube Privacy Settings

Have you noticed that YouTube always seems to know which videos to recommend to you? To do this, YouTube has to collect your data so it can accurately predict what content interests you.

Unfortunately, YouTube also uses that data to target you with ads. If you don’t like the idea of your personal information being used in this way, you can improve your privacy by updating your YouTube privacy settings.

Here are the six main areas you need to know and review in your YouTube privacy settings and account setup:

  • Watch and search history tracking
  • Playlist and subscription privacy
  • Advertising personalization
  • Video visibility management
  • Comment controls
  • Profile setup

Continue reading for our step-by-step instructions on how to review and update the privacy settings on YouTube.

When you watch your favorite videos on YouTube, it probably never occurs to you that YouTube is watching you back. A large amount of personal information about you is being collected, analyzed, and stored. Plus, given YouTube’s relationship with Google, your YouTube activity is likely connected to your real name (unless you’re using a secondary Google account).

The good news is you can improve your online security by changing just a few privacy settings in YouTube, all without costing you any of the features of the service.

Perform a Google Security Checkup on Your YouTube Account

As the largest video hosting site in the world and a subsidiary of Google, YouTube has access to approximately 1.1 billion users. So it’s important to keep an eye on how the company handles and processes user information.

This first step in improving your privacy on YouTube is through a tool called Google Security Checkup. This easy step gives you a basic security check for your entire Google account, including YouTube. Note that this is currently only available online; you can’t make these changes if you’re not connected to the internet.

Here’s how to perform a Google Security Checkup:

  1. Open YouTube and select your profile by clicking the button on the top right.
  2. Screenshot of YouTube Personal Icon
  3. Select Settings.
  4. Screenshot of YouTube settings menu
  5. Click Account.
  6. Screenshot of YouTube Settings account option
  7. Click on View or change your Google Account settings, which can be found next to “Google Account.”
  8. Screenshot of YouTube Account Change Google Account settings
  9. Click on Review suggestions in the Privacy Suggestions Available section.
  10. Screenshot of YouTube Privacy Suggestions available
  11. Review and (if applicable) enable all suggestions under the Privacy Checkup.
  12. Screenshot of YouTube Privacy Checkup

While you’re there, visit Personal Info & Privacy in the left menu to see what and where Google shares identifiable information about you. There are lots of things to check, so set aside an hour to check all of them. As Google harvests data from YouTube, Chrome, and the Google search engine, it’s worth spending time checking what data is collected and how it is used.

How to Change YouTube’s Privacy Settings

While you can’t block all ads from YouTube even with adblockers, you can limit the information collected on your profile and, more importantly, what information is made public. By adjusting the privacy settings in your YouTube account, you can protect your personal information.

Before you can make changes to your YouTube privacy settings, you need to know where the privacy settings on YouTube are located. Follow the steps below to quickly navigate to the settings.

  1. On the YouTube website, navigate to the Home screen.
  2. Screenshot of YouTube Home Screen
  3. At the top on the far-right corner, you will see your profile icon. Click on it to bring up the settings. The YouTube app is set up the same way.
  4. Screenshot of YouTube Personal Icon
  5. Click on Settings either on the app or webpage.
  6. Screenshot of YouTube settings menu and YouTube Mobile
  7. Now click on Privacy or History & privacy.
  8. Screenshot of YouTube Privacy Settings and YouTube Mobile Settings
  9. This will bring up the Privacy Settings.
  10. Screenshot of YouTube Privacy Settings screen
  11. Screenshot of YouTube Privacy Setting Screen Mobile

As you can see above, the menus for the settings and privacy settings on YouTube are very different. Below we will describe what you can adjust in the settings of the app and on the website.

How to Improve Your YouTube Privacy Settings

As we mentioned above, YouTube collects an enormous amount of personal information on you to create targeted ads, which is how they make their money. However, the platform does offer its users the ability to opt out of some intrusive policies and make changes to their profiles to improve their overall privacy.

But where to start? Below are our recommendations for improving your YouTube privacy settings and profile setup.


Take control of your YouTube watch and search history

To improve your privacy on the YouTube app, the first step is to opt out of YouTube’s ability to keep your watch and search history.

Every time you watch a video, even for just a few moments, it is added to your watch history. This is part of the data YouTube uses to create your profile. Meanwhile, your search history is the record of searches you perform on YouTube itself. (This is separate from any searches you do in the Google search engine or Chrome address bar.)

How to opt out of YouTube watch and search history

To opt out of logging your search and watch history on the YouTube app, follow the steps below:

Screenshot of YouTube Mobile Pause History

  1. Click on the slider next to Pause watch history.
  2. Click on the slider next to Pause search history.

How to stop YouTube from logging your watch and search history

To stop YouTube from logging your watch and search history online, follow these steps.

  1. On the left-hand menu, click History.
  2. Screenshot of YouTube menu, History option highlighted
  3. Click Watch and Search history.
  4. Screenshot of YouTube Watch and Search History option highlighted
  5. Click Saving Activity.
  6. Screenshot of YouTube Saving Activity
  7. Click Turn Off to stop YouTube from logging your search and watch history. Note that, if you want to allow YouTube to continue to log one of these areas, simply uncheck the box next to the applicable selection.
  8. Screenshot of YouTube History menu

How to clear your YouTube watch and search history

To completely clear your YouTube watch and search history on the app:

Screenshot of YouTube Mobile Clear History

  1. Click on Clear watch history at the top of the screen.
  2. Click Clean search history.

How to delete existing YouTube watch and search history data

If you want to delete your existing watch and search history online, simply follow the steps below:

  1. On the left-hand menu, click History.
  2. Screenshot of YouTube menu, History option highlighted
  3. Click Clear All Watch History.
  4. Screenshot of YouTube Clear Watch History Option

Before doing this, understand this means you will no longer have access to your “history” section.

There are two other ways to take control of your YouTube search and watch history. Those are by using Auto Delete and manually deleting specific videos from your watch history.

How to set your YouTube search and watch history to auto delete

To set your search and watch history to automatically delete after a certain time, follow the steps below.

  1. On the left-hand menu, click History.
  2. Screenshot of YouTube menu, History option highlighted
  3. Click Watch and Search history.
  4. Screenshot of YouTube Watch and Search History option highlighted
  5. Click Auto Delete.
  6. Screenshot of YouTube Auto Delete History
  7. Check the circle for Auto-delete activity older than and choose a timeframe.
  8. Screenshot of YouTube Auto Delete History Meu

How to manually delete your YouTube search and watch history

To manually remove a specific video from your history, simply click the X next to the applicable video in your history.

Screenshot of YouTube Renive Single Video


How to turn on YouTube incognito mode

If you prefer to keep the convenience of having YouTube show your search and viewing history but want to exclude a particular video without manually removing it, YouTube incognito mode is the answer.

Videos searched for and watched in “incognito” mode will not be added to your search or watch history. Currently, YouTube incognito mode is only available on the YouTube app. To activate incognito mode, follow the steps below:

  1. Click on the home screen
  2. Screenshot of YouTube Home Screen
  3. Click on your icon at the top right-hand corner of the screen.
  4. Screenshot of YouTube Personal Icon
  5. On the Account screen, click on Turn on Incognito.
  6. Screenshot of YouTube Mobile, Turn on Incognito option highlighted

How to set your video preferences to private

With doxing running rampant, it’s sometimes necessary to keep our personal and political opinions to ourselves. However, our YouTube subscriptions, playlists, and even our like history can be a dead giveaway. The easiest way to keep that information from those that might cause problems is by making these lists private.

You can do this easily by following the steps below.

  1. From the YouTube website, click on the icon in the top right-hand corner.
  2. Screenshot of YouTube Personal Icon
  3. Click on Settings.
  4. Screenshot of YouTube settings menu
  5. Click on Privacy from the menu.
  6. Screenshot of YouTube Privacy
  7. Click on the slide control next to Keep all my saved playlists private.
  8. Click on the slide control next to Keep all my subscriptions private.
  9. Screenshot of YouTube Lists

How to turn off ad personalization

To control how YouTube shows ads based on your profile, you’ll have to update your ‘Google Ads Settings’ as they control the ad settings for all of Google, not just YouTube. Here’s how you can do this.

(Note that the steps for stopping Google from targeted advertising are slightly different depending on if you’re using the website or the app.)

  1. Whether you’re on the app or website, click on the icon in the top right-hand corner.
  2. Screenshot of YouTube Personal Icon
  3. Click Settings.
  4. Screenshot of YouTube Privacy Settings and YouTube Mobile Settings
  5. Next, click on Privacy (website) or Privacy & History (mobile app)
  6. If you’re on the website, you will see the Manage what you share on YouTube screen.
  7. Screenshot of YouTube Privacy Manage Share
  8. If you are on the mobile app, you will see the Privacy and History settings screen.
  9. From the website, click on the Google Ads Settings link to be taken to the Google Ads Settings screen.
  10. Screenshot of YouTube Ad Settings
  11. To be taken to the Google Ads Settings screen from the mobile app, simply click on Ads Settings from the Privacy and History menu.
  12. Screenshot of YouTube Ad Settings Mobile

Turning this feature off will not stop you from seeing ads on YouTube and other Google products; it merely stops them from presenting targeted ads based on your profile.

Instead of completely stopping targeted ads, you can choose to adjust the interests Google uses to determine those targeted ads. To adjust your interests, scroll down on the Google Ads Settings screen and simply click on the interests you want to remove.

Screenshot of YouTube Ad Setting Personalization


How to Improve Your YouTube Channel Privacy

Whether you’re a popular YouTuber or someone who just wants a quick and easy way to share cute family videos, optimizing your channel’s privacy is vital. There are a few ways to do this:

  1. Control your content visibility
  2. Manage comments on visible and unlisted videos
  3. Leverage comment filters on YouTube

1. How to set videos as “unlisted” or “private” for additional privacy

YouTube gives you three visibility options for your videos:

  • Public videos are just that: public. Anyone can see your video by searching for it or by going through your YouTube channel.
  • Unlisted videos will not appear in search results or on your YouTube channel. However, anyone with a link to the video can view it.
  • Private videos do not appear on your YouTube channel and will not show in search results. Private videos can only be seen by those you directly invite to see them.

Unlisted and private seem like the same option, but there is a difference between them. An unlisted video can still be seen by anyone with said unlisted video’s URL. This means that, if Person A shares your link with Person B, then Person B can now view your video (even if you didn’t invite them yourself).

Meanwhile, a private video requires the owner to invite the viewer’s YouTube account to view the video. In other words, even if Person A shares the link to your video with Person B, Person B still won’t be able to view your video. The only way for Person B to watch your upload is if you invite them directly.

Now that you know the difference, you can improve your privacy by changing the visibility of your videos on YouTube. It is a simple process, regardless of whether you’re on the website or the app. However, the steps are slightly different.

Follow the steps below to take control of your video privacy through the YouTube website.

  1. Click on the icon at the top right hand of the screen to open the main menu.
  2. Choose YouTube Studio from the list.
  3. Screenshot of YouTube Studio Defaults
  4. Click on Content.
  5. Screenshot of YouTube Content Option highlighted
  6. Click on the current visibility status next to the applicable video.
  7. Screenshot of YouTube Content Visibility
  8. Change the visibility to the level of privacy you want for the video.
  9. Screenshot of YouTube Content Visibility menu

To update the visibility of your content through the mobile app, follow the steps below.

  1. Click on the icon at the top right-hand corner and scroll down to the bottom of the menu to choose YouTube Studio.
  2. Screenshot of YouTube Mobile YouTube Studio on menu
  3. This will take you to the app store if you do not have the YouTube Studio app installed on your device. Download the app.
  4. Screenshot of YouTube Studio App store
  5. Open the YouTube Studio App.
  6. Click on the pencil icon next to the applicable video.
  7. Screenshot of YouTube Studio Menu
  8. Choose the applicable visibility status and click save. Here, you can turn the chosen upload into an unlisted video or private video.
  9. Screenshot of YouTube Mobile Visibility

2. Manage comments on YouTube

We’ve all seen it. Someone makes an incendiary remark that opens the floodgates on rude, inappropriate comments. The next thing you know, the video is outshined by negativity. Fortunately, managing comments on your YouTube content is simple — and you can even add moderators to assist with the review and approval process. These options are only available online at this time.

Setting up comment defaults on the YouTube app

  1. From the YouTube Studio, click on Settings.
  2. Screenshot of YouTube Studio settings
  3. Click on Community from the Settings menu.
  4. Screenshot of YouTube studio settings menu
  5. Click on Defaults.
  6. Choose Hold All Comments for Review or Hold potentially inappropriate chat messages for review from the drop-down menu.
  7. Screenshot of YouTube Studio Defaults
  8. Check the box next to Hold potentially inappropriate chat messages for review under Messages in your live chat.
  9. Screenshot of YouTube Messages in your live chat settings

Adding YouTube moderators

  1. From the YouTube Studio, click on Settings.
  2. Screenshot of YouTube Studio settings
  3. Click on Community from the Settings menu.
  4. Screenshot of YouTube studio settings menu
  5. Add the applicable YouTube users under Moderator.
  6. Screenshot of YouTube Moderator window

3. Using other YouTube comment filters

Under the Community section mentioned above, there are other filters that you can implement to better manage your comments. These are:

  • Approved Users — Adding users to this area tells YouTube to automatically approve their comments on your videos
  • Hidden Users — Adding users to this area allows the user to comment on your videos but automatically hides those comments from being viewed by others
  • Blocked Words — Adding specific words here will cause any comments with those words to be automatically held for review
  • Block Links – If you check this box, any comments that are posted with hashtags and URLs are held for review. Content owners, moderators, and approved users are exempt from this filter.

How to Improve Your YouTube Account Profile Privacy

Although this next section isn’t technically just about your YouTube privacy settings, it is still integral to your overall privacy on YouTube. Think of it this way: how you set up your profile is the foundation to good YouTube privacy practices.

We have two recommendations for setting up a secure YouTube profile. Those are:

  1. Connect your YouTube account to a Gmail account that does not show your real name.
  2. Do not use a photo of yourself or your family as your profile icon. Instead, use something more generic like a stock photo of a car, a nature photo, or something similar.

How to Protect Your Privacy with a VPN

As we’ve shown, you can reduce the amount of information YouTube and Google have about you by adjusting your privacy settings. However, these companies still know more about you than perhaps you want them to. You can drastically improve your privacy with another simple step: using a VPN.

A virtual private network (VPN) keeps your information anonymous by acting as a middleman between you and the websites you visit online.

First, information from your computer is encrypted and sent to a VPN server. The VPN server then connects to the website you’re visiting. Afterward, it encrypts the data back to your computer. Because the websites you access only deal with a VPN server and not with you directly, you remain anonymous.

A VPN also provides other benefits, such as unblocking geographically restricted content. To learn more about how a VPN could benefit you, check out our post on choosing the best VPN for your needs. For YouTube, we recommend NordVPN because of its speed and reliability.

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Step-by-step plan: Improve your privacy on YouTube with NordVPN

Here’s how to improve your privacy on YouTube by changing your IP address using NordVPN:

  1. Head over to the NordVPN website.
  2. Click the button “Get NordVPN” to choose your plan.
  3. Select the plan level that meets your needs.
  4. Decide if you want to add NordPass or NordLocker Premium to your account.
  5. Choose the payment method you wish to use and enter your email.
  6. Download the VPN client from the NordVPN website.
  7. Open the installation file and follow the installation process.
  8. Open the VPN software and log in using your newly set up account.
  9. Choose the best server for your needs and enjoy.

Your personal IP address stays private as long as you’re using the VPN’s server to connect to YouTube.

How Google Affects Your YouTube Privacy Settings

YouTube has over 2 billion monthly users as of 2021. Those viewers consume an average of 1 billion hours of video each day. Since YouTube is a subsidiary of Google, the tech giant leverages those viewers to entice businesses into advertising on the platform. This earns Google billions of dollars strictly from advertising revenue alone.

But does this really affect your privacy?

Privacy settings iconIt absolutely can. Google doesn’t just show any advertisement for its users to watch. In fact, chances are, if you and your Aunt Sally from across the country were to watch the same YouTube video, you’ll end up seeing completely different ads. This is because Google uses targeted ads on YouTube.

The ads you see are carefully curated to match a user with a certain profile. Every video you watch on the site and every search you perform on the platform helps YouTube create a more targeted profile of your interests. Even data about how long you watched a video, at what point you skip to the next video, and which ads you interact with are all collected by YouTube.

Over time, your profile affects the ads you see, the videos suggested for you to watch, and your experience on YouTube. Private information that you may think is kept secret is actually collected by the company to fine-tune your profile. Your privacy is affected, even without your realizing it.

Manage Your YouTube Privacy Settings: Frequently Asked Questions

Still have more questions regarding YouTube privacy settings? No problem. We have you covered. Below are some of our most frequently asked questions.

Changing your YouTube settings is simple, regardless of if you’re on the website or the app. Below are the steps to get to your YouTube privacy settings:

  1. Click on the profile icon at the top right-hand corner.
  2. Click on Settings from the menu for all setting options.
  3. Click on Privacy to bring up the privacy settings.

For the full instructions on updating your YouTube privacy settings, check out our How to Manage Your YouTube Privacy Settings article.

Setting your YouTube playlist to private is one step you can take to improve your privacy and help protect yourself from doxing. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Click on the profile icon in the top right-hand corner of the YouTube website.
  2. Click on Settings from the menu.
  3. Click on Privacy from the menu.
  4. To make all of your playlists private, click on the slide control next to Keep all my saved playlists private.

For more YouTube privacy settings you need to change right now, read our full article How to Manage Your YouTube Privacy Settings.

Unlisted YouTube videos can be seen by anyone with a link, including the people that get forwarded with the URL without the owner’s knowledge or approval. Meanwhile, private videos can only be seen by those the owner directly invites to see them.Both unlisted YouTube videos and private YouTube videos will not appear in search results or on your YouTube channel.

Author
Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. She has broad experience developing rigorous VPN testing procedures and protocols for our VPN review section and has tested dozens of VPNs over the years.
Contributor
Security research coordinator
Kat is an IT security business consultant with experience in project management, process development, and leadership. She coordinates our team's research efforts in the field of cybersecurity, privacy, and censorship.