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How to Track and Watch YouTube Channels Privately

Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

April 13, 2017

Last month, it was revealed that adverts by corporations like AT&T, Verizon, Coca-Cola and Volkswagen (and many more) were being shown on YouTube before videos that contained extremist and hate-fueled opinions (such as racist content). The news caused a massive wave of corporations to withdraw their adverts from YouTube, for fear that their ads would be associated with distasteful videos.

To journalists who stalk YouTube looking for leads about political dissenters, oppressive regimes, and dangerous people of interest, the extremist nature of YouTube is no secret. YouTube can be a pretty dark and scary place. For people researching extremist subjects, viewing that type of content is part of the job.

Don’t Track Me!

Just as advertisers don’t want their brands attached to hate-filled content, nor do most people want to associate their identities with it. That’s why many people want to access online content (including YouTube videos) in a private manner.

For people who live in oppressive political regimes, the dangers can be extreme. In certain locations, you can go to prison for watching news that is considered outside of the “official” local narrative. In the most severe circumstances, the regime could even kill you for political dissent.

People living under such draconian restrictions need to access all online content anonymously (not just YouTube videos). Google nearly always accedes to data requests, so if there is a legitimate government request for the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of people who watch certain videos, Google will hand them over.

Ordinary People Affected

Perhaps the most pressing reason to gain anonymity while watching YouTube videos is the fact that YouTube belongs to Google. Google tracks everything that its users do, and is one of the most severe threats to privacy there is.

Google can use web searches and YouTube viewing histories to build up a detailed profile of internet users. That profile is hugely invasive and can be used to target people with adverts frighteningly effectively.

People are waking up to this fact, and are beginning to turn to alternative search engines, the best of which is StartPage. StartPage is based in the Netherlands, which means it is safely out of reach of US gag orders and warrants. The search engine doesn’t track users’ activity. It can also help people to avoid cookies and spyware (through proxy webpages using StartPage’s servers).

Private search engines are an excellent way for people to start regaining their online privacy. However, they are only the first step, and won’t help when it comes to watching YouTube videos in a private manner.

How to Watch YouTube Videos Privately

Some people may jump to Tor as a possible solution. However, using Tor slows down an internet connection too much to watch videos. In addition, watching videos will clog up the already highly limited bandwidth that is available, thus spoiling Tor for other people. This is where a Virtual Private Network (VPN) comes in.

A VPN is the best solution for watching YouTube privately, because the encryption and IP address obfuscation that the VPN service provides allow people to access YouTube without it being able to ascertain who they really are. When a user is connected to a VPN, YouTube only sees the VPN’s IP address. That means YouTube, Google, or Alphabet (the parent company that owns both) cannot build up a profile about the videos that individual VPN users watch.

Of course, when you use a VPN service, the VPN itself knows who you are and which YouTube videos you’ve watched. That is why it is essential to use a reliable and trusted VPN with a watertight privacy policy.

What to Look for in a VPN Service

An outstanding VPN will keep zero logs, or only a few connection logs (aggregate ones preferably), to keep the service running smoothly. Trusted VPNs never keep usage logs. That means that nobody can force them to provide details of what subscribers did online (including which YouTube videos they watched).

Cheap and free VPNs are very similar to free apps, which ask for way too many permissions. When an app is free, it may have invasive permissions that allow it to access all sorts of data on the user’s device. The same is true with low-priced or cheap VPNs, which often sell user data to third parties as a revenue stream.

A VPN only provides privacy and security if it isn’t selling you out to the highest bidder. You should thus select a VPN very carefully. There are over 800 commercial VPNs on the market. Many of them – even paid-for services – have questionable privacy policies and encryption that is woefully lacking.

There is no doubt that a VPN is one of the best personal cybersecurity products available today, but only if you get the right one. Otherwise, all you are doing is allowing someone else to sell your data to third parties instead of Google. You have been warned!

Using an RSS Reader to Subscribe to YouTube Anonymously

Another time that people may desire anonymity is when subscribing to YouTube channels. You might not want Google to know that you are interested in the content of a particular YouTube channel. Thankfully, there is a way to subscribe to any YouTube channel completely anonymously. That way you can instantly receive an update about a new video, without YouTube knowing. You can then go and watch that video using a VPN service.

This is achieved using a Rich Site Summary (RSS) reader. RSS is a format for distributing frequently changing web content. It keeps people informed about new content on numerous websites without them having to visit those sites.

This is a fantastic way to anonymously receive updates about the content that is appearing on websites (without having to subscribe to their newsletter, for instance). More and more websites are beginning to provide RSS feeds of their content. To access those useful feeds you will need an RSS reader. Some of the most popular RSS readers are: FeedReader, Feedbin, Inoreader, NewsGator and Amphetadesk (there are many more).

Once you have an RSS reader, you can use it to anonymously get updates about videos that appear on YouTube channels, without having to subscribe to the channels at all!

Get Anonymous Updates Now!

To do so, follow these simple steps:

  1. Go to the YouTube channel you want to subscribe to.

2. View the page’s source code (in Firefox this is done with Control+U, on Chrome right click and select ‘View page source’).

3. Look for the following text within the source code: “channel-external-id.” This can be done by pressing control+F and searching for the text.

4. Get the value for that element. It will look something like this: UCM0VNOWHnCZaM4zc6RIvXxg.

5. Put that value into the following URL (as you can see, it goes after the “=”):

https://www.youtube.com/feeds/videos.xml?channel_id=UCM0VNOWHnCZaM4zc6RIvXxg

Paste that URL into any RSS reader and you will be able to track when new content is posted on the YouTube channel completely privately.

Title image credit: Sandra_Violla/Shutterstock.com

Image credits:

CasimiroPT/Shutterstock.com

Alexander Yakimov/Shutterstock.com

MaluStudio/Shutterstock.com

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