Keep Your YouTube Habits To Yourself With FreeTube

If your usual YouTube viewing selection covers a wild and random variety of music, tech subjects, cooking, history, and anything in-between, you will sooner or later be baffled by some of the “Recommended for you” videos showing up. When it features a ten-hour mix of Soviet propaganda choir music, you might start wondering what a world taken over by an artificial intelligence might actually look like, and realize that your browser’s incognito / private mode really isn’t just for shopping birthday presents in secret. Things get a bit tricky if you actually enjoy or even rely on the whole subscribing-to-channels concept though, which is naturally difficult to bring in line with privacy in today’s world of user-data-driven business models.

Entering the conversation: the FreeTube project, a cross-platform application whose mission is to regain privacy and put the control of one’s data back into the user’s hands. Bypassing YouTube and its player, the watch history and subscriptions — which are still possible — are kept only locally on your own computer, and you can import either of them from YouTube and export them to use within FreeTube on another device (or back to YouTube). Even better, it won’t load a video’s comments without explicitly telling it to, and of course it keeps out the ads as well.

Originally, the Invidious API was used to get the content, and is still supported as fallback option, but FreeTube comes with its own extractor API nowadays. All source code is available from the project’s GitHub repository, along with pre-built packages for Linux (including ARM), Windows, and Mac. The application itself is created using Electron, which might raise a few eyebrows as it packs an entire browser rendering engine and essentially just disguises a website as standalone application. But as the FAQ addresses, this allows easy cross-platform support and helps the project, which would have otherwise been Linux-only, to reach as many people as possible. That’s a valid point in our book.

Keep in mind though, FreeTube is only a player, and more of a wrapper around YouTube itself, so YouTube will still see your IP and interaction with the service. If you want to be fully anonymous, this isn’t a silver bullet and will require additional steps like using a VPN. Unlike other services that you could replace with a local alternative to avoid tracking and profiling, content services are just a bit trickier if you want to actually have a useful selection. So this is a great compromise that also just works out of the box for everyone regardless of their technical background. Let’s just hope it won’t break too much next time some API changes.

43 thoughts on “Keep Your YouTube Habits To Yourself With FreeTube

    1. I get FAR too many repeats and a good portion of the ones that aren’t repeats I have zero interest in and have nothing to do with anything I’ve previously watched.

      “Here’s your recommended videos! You’ve seen 95% of these already and the other 5% have absolutely NOTHING to do with any of your past viewing history. Enjoy!”

    2. If you’re happy with YouTube’s recommendations, you’re probably not paranoid enough.

      Be careful not to live in a bubble. For every interest YouTube identifies and exposes you to, there are dozens of other points of view and topics that become hidden.

    3. No, you aren’t. I’m mostly happy with its recommendations as well. It *does* occasionally try to push some mainstream-stuff at me, but nowadays it’s reasonably rare, since I always click on the “Not interested” in anything and everything that’s not tech-related.

    4. what’s worse is when it sucks you into a political/ideological rabbit hole. for example if you watch a couple jordan peterson videos, good luck getting him off your list when you realize he’s just a run of the mill jungian. had the same problem with mgtow videos. then fat seal videos. i found an interesting history series, and ive watched like 50 of them, yet they never come up and i cant remember what the name of the channel was. or another time i watched gwar’s tedx talk and now it thinks im into motivational speaking. dont like and subscribe to anything or you will never see the end of it. sometimes i wish i could x out those recommendations at the top of the page when im sick of seeing them.

    5. My problem is that I keep getting recommended Simpsons videos despite clicking “don’t recommend this channel” every time they come up. Most of what I get is generally good although I don’t like when it recommends videos I have already seen or when it shows me old videos from a channel I like instead of the latest one (or worse, doesn’t show me the videos at all).

    6. It’s not about what you *like*. They just want to keep you looking at their website (and ads) for as long as possible. If they can do that by showing you stuff that makes you angry, or just videos with totally misleading titles/thumbnails, that works too.

  1. Don’t forget “AI” is most likely a suggester system based on other people’s views, so you can only blame other people watching crap in click chain.
    See amazon’s “other people also viewed” suggestions.

    1. From what I understand, the suggestions are based on accounts you subscribe to, sites you visit (Hi Google Advertising), videos you watch….so the complaint that it’s showing Soviet propaganda is because Google thinks he’s the kind of person that would like Soviet propaganda based on his behavior matching a pattern.

      1. I could be way off on this, but I thought “Soviet propaganda” links would be based on using some anonymizer (is that a real word?) based in Russia. But, I’m also open to it being artistic license of [Sven Gregori].

      2. Well, yeah, that’s kinda my point. It was a logical choice for the algorithm, but a rather amusing WTF moment for me.

        Sure, something did trigger it, no doubt. Mixing all sorts of music genres, diving down a new rabbit hole every few days, and not to mention all the weird videos you otherwise come across on a regular basis will inevitably yield interesting suggestions. So, good thing there are ways around that.

  2. This is a cool idea, but I think its worth noting that if you are not paying for YouTube premium and you block Ads then your favorite content creators are making no money from your views.

      1. People should rely on other payment systems, since ad funded content is basically separating the consumer and the payer: one person views the content, some other person pays Google and the content creator. If I see an advertisement for a car, someone who’s buying a car will pay the “reward” from me viewing the ad – not me. This is a completely unjust system.

        It is designed to encourage consumption of poor quality content (clickbait), in order to justify charging more money out of completely unrelated people, and neither the consumer of the content, nor the eventual payer, have any say about how much should be paid (no negotiation of price vs. value).

        The entire ad-economy is unethical and exploitative.

        1. I guess the consumer is ultimately paying for the aid.
          That said, it is in the advertiser’s interest to let people know about their products.

          It is true that the consumer has no say in how much companies spend for advertisement.
          That said, companies advertising must have some equilibrium for money spent on advertising, profitability, competitiveness and affordability to the targeted consumer.

          1. I would say, that this is similar to Red Queen hypothesis in evolution biology. There is so much producers of products, that you have to push it to customers. And beg them through advertising to buy from you. This, of course, cost money. But, if you are not advertising, your sales will go down and you will perish.
            You as consumer pay for it, that’s for sure. There are some markets, which are not as competitive, but in that case you pay premium as well, because there is more demand than supply.

          2. When customers need products, they look for what’s available. When they don’t need anything, they ignore the adverts. Pushing advertisements is mostly pointless, and they don’t actually work. Online ads have something like one in a million click-through rate, and most of those are accidents. There’s even eye-tracking studies that people have learned to subconsciously skip anything that looks like ads and not waste time looking at them. What’s worse, the “targeted” ads are fundamentally flawed because of the first point: the targeting is done by observing what products people look for, which causes the system to advertise things the people already found and bought. By the time the system notices you’re interested in bicycles, you’ve already bought one and don’t need another.

            The Red Queen’s race is a good hypothesis, but it doesn’t really apply. Instead, it’s really a crocodile repelling whistle situation: nobody really knows that it works, but they don’t dare to stop blowing in case the crocodiles appear.

          3. > if you are not advertising, your sales will go down and you will perish

            The one brand who spends the most to buy all the spots will make the others invisible. A couple megacorporations can afford to play that game, like a certain brand of cola, or a certain brand of fancy laptops, while the rest see no value from spamming adverts – only cost. The biggest corporations spend money on advertisement not to gain sales, but to reduce the visibility of their smaller competitors.

          4. >I guess the consumer is ultimately paying for the aid.

            This has the tragedy of the commons written all over it. If you are not consuming, you’re paying, so it is rational for you to consume as well so at least you’re getting your money’s worth – but this then causes more money to be spent on more ads, again without any negotiation of whether the content so funded is even worth it.

    1. If you are not blocking the ads, you are forcing other people besides yourself to pay for your viewing habits, because the cost of advertisement is pushed on to the customers of the company that pays for the adverts.

  3. Youtube has become an advertising nightmare. Every few minutes there are a couple of ads – you need to click on one after 5 seconds to stop this ad playing or it will play for a looong time. The other ad just runs for a few seconds. These swap around. Then there are the popup ads that block the bottom section of your viewing area – they can popup anytime and you have to click the x to close it.
    I know they have to make money with advertising, but these ads are now waaay too excessive and intrusive that they totally spoil the video. Time for an alternative to youtube!

    1. Youtube-dl has entered the chat. There’s a really nice python script out there which will monitor your subscriptions via crontab and download videos posted by channels you follow, then move them into another location with rclone. This particular method became mandatory once an update to the gravity db on my pihole completely and totally bricked youtube on my phone/pc/roku devices. Guess my ad blocking at network level got a little *too* aggressive?

      At least I’ll never be forced to sit through another ad for an insufferable piece of garbage kia again.

      1. Usually let the political ads play through. I am not the least bit interested in what “the other side” has to say through their ads, but if I click “Skip” for them, it gives YT another data point about me.

        1. And along those lines, I don’t know if advertisers have to pay for skipped ads, but if they don’t; “the other side” ends up paying for (i.e. wasting money on) ads that do play through!
          B^)

          1. I’ve always wondered where in a video ad the advertiser actually has to pay out. Some with Instagram and them putting SO MANY ADS in Stories now. I swipe EVERY ONE and hit “not relevant” but I had considered just letting them play to make these insufferable advertisers pay out anyways.

        2. I try to let video-content relevant ads play through, like welding gear or safety equipment or power tools (Porter Cable has tasteful ads, ngl), which should tell you everything you need to know about my viewing habits ;)

      2. I started using VLC and MPV that have plugins to play videos directly from Youtube without the need for a web browser. A nice side effect is that they are unable to play the ads.
        On the other side, you can get RSS feeds from every Youtube account you like instead of “subscribing”. Both options made me lose a lot less time watching stupidities on Youtube, which turns out to have similar side effects as TV on some persons, where you “passively consume content” without really thinking.

  4. For music videos I use incognito mode, also for friends that say ‘you have to watch this video!’. It’s worth going from time to time through your history and remove items that are not related to your interests (if that’s what you want).

    Basically all systems that bypass ads or allow downloading will sooner or later get blocked and require constant maintenance. I guess most stuff flies under the radar now but will be tighter enforced as the push for ‘premium’ becomes stronger. Guess why the mid-roll ads have been added, it’s just an annoyance to make more people subscribe. It’s more effective if you do it in steps rather than in a big change.

    Youtube has now become an almost-monopoly w.r.t. video platforms and will probably soon surpass TV, if it hasn’t already.

  5. I spent about fifteen minutes with FreeTube. I think there are some serious problems with this application:

    If you open something like Settings, there’s no way to dismiss it except to hit the back arrow, and if you have a YouTube page open when you do that, the YouTube page has to entirely reload. This happens every time you want to leave a page and return to the YouTube view.

    I can’t find any way to add a URL, only entire YouTube Subscriptions. I do not have any YouTube Subscriptions I only have browser bookmarks for channels I regularly view. I NEVER log into YouTube in the first place.

    There doesn’t seem to be any way to sort videos shown on a channel by date and time. All the posts in a channel seem to be scrambled up in terms of date and time posted. That makes using the likes of a news channel almost impossible. I can filter to see only posts by the hour, day, week etc., but the posts are still scrambled up in terms of date and time within that period.

    There seems to be the capability to setup Profiles each of which hold different channels, but there’s no explanation o how this works. I can add a profile, but I can’t add any channels to that profile.

    Since the user interface is so non-intuitive, this application needs of some sort of documentation or tutorial.

    FreeTube seems to have the the potential to build YouTube-ish subscriptions without ever having to log into YouTube. But right now I can’t figure out how to do that.

  6. When I opened FreeTube for the first time it said the following and had a link to a Blog post that explains about a pretty serious problem with FreeTube hitting the YouTube servers with too many requests which will get you put into a DDOS jail for awhile.

    Experiencing 429 Errors? Please Read For Info [October 3, 2020]:

    https://freetube.writeas.com/experiencing-429-errors-please-read-for-info?pk_campaign=rss-feed

    The suggested solution is to point FreeTube to YouTube’s RSS feed: “…go to your settings within FreeTube and enable RSS as your preferred method for refreshing your subscriptions.”

    I don’t know how it is today, but my past experience with YouTube’s RSS feeds is that they were always late, and sometimes incomplete.

    BTW, here’s the URL to the FreeTube Blog:

    https://freetube.writeas.com/

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