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.