How to automatically delete your YouTube viewing history


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Google’s YouTube has become the world’s most popular video hosting/viewing site on the Internet. But with all things Google, it records user’s activity, merges it with their Google profile, and sells their viewing habits to others (along with other personal data it collects and sells).

If a user is signed in to their Google account, it keeps a record of all videos that they watched, all their searches, all comments, email, and any other activity they may be subscribed to through Google. If they watch a lot of football, travel, food, or even cute cat videos, YouTube will collect that information and sell it to companies that may have an interest in their personal activities.

As a part of this personal data collection, YouTube keeps track of every video that a user watches on the site and every search that is made. It claims it uses the information for its recommendation engine that suggests videos to users based on past activity.

YouTube users had two options up until now to deal with the accumulation of data: delete the data manually regularly or pause the data collecting.

Google announced recently that it would integrate new functionality that would allow users to have the activity history deleted automatically. The new functionality is now available but it is likely that most YouTube users don’t know about it.

The main reason for that is that Google did not implement the functionality on the YouTube website itself, but on the company’s My Activity website instead. If you check the options on YouTube, you will get the old “pause” or “clear manually” options only. If you check My Activity in your Google account, you get the option to configure automatic processes to delete the history and to configure the watch history better as well.

Here is how that is done:

Visit the My Activity page on the Google website. You can use the link in the previous sentence to go there directly or open the main Google website, click on your profile icon and select Google Account > Manage your data & personalization > YouTube History > Manage Activity (under YouTube History).

The page lists two main options to configure the history on YouTube. The left widget displays the current state of history recording, and options to manage the settings.

A click on ‘change setting’ displays options to enable the watch history or search history exclusively on YouTube. Note that this will enable history recording again on the site.

The second widget controls an automated process that will delete the history based on your preferences. The default is set to “keeping activity until you delete it manually”. Click on “choose to delete automatically” to configure auto-delete for the YouTube history.

Only two time intervals are provided: 3 months or 18 months. Whichever of the two time frame options you choose, Google will delete any activity that is older than your chosen time frame. The configuration page lacks any other options; there is no option to set a custom interval.

YouTube claims it uses your history to remind you what you’ve watched, avoid recommending already watched videos, and improve your recommendations. These “benefits” are supposed to improve the longer you keep your history.

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