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blog: Don Marti

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cleaning up YouTube

06 March 2021

Time for another Internet tip. Hope this is useful, since I think my problem was a pretty common one.

  • I want to be able to share a video link from a business-related event and not have a "lizard people run the Federal Reserve" video auto-play at the end of it.

  • I want my family members to be able to click a video on how to play a game or cook a recipe without constantly having to check the recommended videos for those prolific "Fourteen Words" guys.

  • I don't want to watch an exercise video and then have it roll right over into the miraculous bleach and vinegar diet video.

  • And finally, I want to cut back on how much of my personal or business info is used to target me with ads.

Yes, this means cleaning up YouTube. Ideally there would be just one tool I could install, like Facebook Container, but it's a little more work than that. This is going to take two extensions and a little configuration. But in my opinion it's worth it to do this once instead of having to deal with "oh crap, YouTube is showing WHAT?" over and over. Ready?

Part one: containerize YouTube

First, install Firefox Multi-Account Containers. Containers are a way for users to isolate their online identities and tasks from one another. You will get a new Multi-Account Containers button on the Firefox toolbar. This opens the container menu.

Click the button to open the container menu, click "Manage Containers," then "New Container". Make a container for YouTube. I picked red as the color code for tabs opened in this container. (If you already have Facebook Container, which I recommend, you'll have a blue stripe for Facebook tabs.) You can also pick a small icon for the container.

Now that the container exists, go to the YouTube site, open the container menu, and select "Always Open This Site in..." Pick the YouTube container from the list.

Now when you follow a link to YouTube, the page will open up in the container, with a stripe on the tab showing the color you picked. You shouldn't be logged in to YouTube with your Google account if you have one.

Part one done. This should limit the use of my info from other services to target me for scams and crap in video ads. This should not require any extra clicks after the original setup. You can even customize the Firefox toolbar and move the Multi-Account Containers button to the overflow area, so you don't have to think about it unless you want to do this for another site.

Part two: patch the YouTube rat hole

Time for another extension: Enhancer for YouTube. This one will change some of the creepy "engagement" promoting behaviors of the YouTube site design.

Install, then open up the preferences. Hamburger menu → Add-ons → three dots to the right of the Enhancer for YouTube entry.

This preferences menu has a whole bunch of stuff on it, take your pick. The essentials are:

  • Disable autoplay

  • Hide related videos

I also hide comments and use the Automatically enable YouTube's Theater mode option to make the video bigger and fill in the extra space (that used to be occupied by thumbnails of the flat earth video, the miracle virus cure video, and the video about the dead politician who is secretly alive and is coming back to massacre everybody that some video maker doesn't like).

You can also click around with some of the other options. I haven't messed with this extension since I got things cleaned up. If you like a video channel you can allow autoplay just for playlists, and the extension doesn't interfere with browsing a channel's home page or videos list page.

All done.

Conclusion

YouTube is not in business just to show you the videos you want. The more that viewers pick their own videos, the more market power that popular video creators end up with, and the lower the share of ad revenue that YouTube can capture. The secret of the YouTube model is to commodify the content by artificially driving viewers away from emergent stars...even if that means that the side effect is promoting more bleach-drinking videos or white power videos than viewers actually want.

In the long run, regulation will need to complement the technology here. It will be easy for YouTube to change their site around to make extensions and tips stop working. Drink your bleach and like it, we've got a market to dominate! Right now, there is a lot of focus on the technology and regulation to enforce people's right to block transfers of their data between sites. But there is also going to need to be some protection of the right to turn off automated promotion/commodification of behavior within a site.

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