YouTube is a fantastic tool for finding anything from instructional video content to entertainment, and anything and everything in between. However, there’s a problem…
There’s no denying that YouTube is an incredibly useful resource, but there is one large problem: Google. Google has a long history of disrespecting user privacy, and YouTube is not only owned by Google, but your ‘YouTube Account’ is also your Google Account.
In an ideal world, it would be best to stop using YouTube altogether and use a FOSS (Free Open Source Software) project like PeerTube exclusively. However, the reality is that YouTube wins by a long shot in terms of the content you can find on it, and while PeerTube and similar projects show a lot of promise, they are not quite at the level of a suitable YouTube alternative from a content perspective.
In this guide, I will walk you through the best ways to watch YouTube videos and follow channels while preserving maximum privacy:
- For Phones & Tablets
- For Desktops & Laptops
Bonus: Subscribing to YouTube channels using RSS
(Check the end of the article for a quick TLDR summary)
1 – Maximum Privacy YouTube For Phones And Tablets
There is a free and open source app called NewPipe, which is a privacy-respecting alternative app for YouTube. You can download this for Android phones and tablets from F-Droid. F-Droid is a free and open source app store for Android phones, and a privacy friendly alternative to the proprietary Google Play Store.
On NewPipe, you can subscribe to channels without having a YouTube account, and while it still pulls videos from Google/YouTube’s servers (which is unavoidable for obvious reasons), it gives you an interface which doesn’t track your every move!
“NewPipe does not use any Google framework libraries, or the YouTube API. It only parses the website in order to gain the information it needs. Therefore this app can be used on devices without Google Services installed. Also, you don’t need a YouTube account to use NewPipe, and it’s FLOSS.” (From NewPipe F-Droid App Page)
2 – Maximum Privacy YouTube For Desktops & Laptops
The easiest way to watch YouTube videos whilst having maximum privacy is by using an Invidious instance. Invidious is a FOSS alternative YouTube front-end, which similar to NewPipe, does not track your usage on the site directly. (With Invidious, you can browse YouTube without letting Google know what you are watching)
Invidious has its own built in account system (separate from Google entirely) which you can use to subscribe to channels.
The more technically savvy individual can actually self-host Invidious. Alternatively, the average person can access Invidious through one of the public instances listed in the link below:
Alternatively, there is a desktop app based on Invidious which you can install called FreeTube.
It functions very similarly to Invidious and serves as a functional YouTube front-end, where you can also subscribe to channels without a YouTube account – It works on Linux, Mac and Windows!
Bonus: Using RSS To Subscribe To YouTube Channels
A little known fact is that YouTube channels have RSS feeds! You can add them to your favourite RSS reader, and keep up with them that way whilst preserving the most privacy possible.
There are many great RSS readers, I personally use newsboat (hyperlink to download) which runs in the terminal, and I have configured a macro to directly stream YouTube videos to mpv (media player).
I don’t personally have experience with other RSS readers so I can’t personally recommend any others, but there are many resources out there! Try to find and use a FOSS client to get the maximum privacy.
YouTube Channel RSS Feeds
First, you’ll need the channel ID, which you can find by going to an Invidious instance and searching for the channel you want, and on the channel page you can find the channel ID here:
Simply use this URL format (and replace the red text with the channel ID):
Note: The channel ID starts with ‘U’, do not include the ‘channel:’ bit.
You can also switch out ‘youtube.com’ for the Invidious instance of your choice, but this probably won’t make a big difference overall.
YouTube is Google-owned and therefore an inherent privacy risk, however you can take steps to maximise your privacy:
See above post for details and more info on each of these.
Disclaimer: No services/software listed in this article paid to be featured, nor have I had any contact with them whatsoever at the time of writing. I tested (and personally use) everything I recommend in this article.
I’m an AI & Robotics Student interested in FOSS, Tech Sustainability and Data Rights. I’m also the founder of Humans For Ethical Technology.