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When I go into incognito session and then use Youtube, I always thought that it's like coming to the site as a totally new person. How surprising it was when one day I watched a cabaret (not a very trendy, nor fashionable thing to watch) in incognito mode and a day later, on the same browser, on the same computer, in incognito mode I received a recommendation for me to watch the same cabaret, on the main page. I wasn't logged in. Neither am I logged in on YT in non-incognito session, but there I didn't receive any cabaret recommendation, so YT treats these two sessions as different users and give different recommendations.

I could think that YT knows something about my net, so they could basically recommend me anything that I watch on any computer in the range of the same wifi net, on any device, but YT doesn't do it.

So how did Youtube know that I had watched a cabaret a day before and that I was in incognito mode too? How does it all work? I reckon he wouldn't know if I had used a different browser?

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First note that just because something can be explained by YT tracking you in incognito mode, this does not mean that this actually happening. Just because there is an apparent explanation does not mean that this is the only explanation or that it is the correct one. Note also that you have a biased perspective, i.e. you argue based on a single video which you've watched in incognito mode and which got recommended to you, but ignore all the videos you watched in incognito mode and which did not get recommended to you.

I doubt that YT actually knows what you've already watched in incognito mode and therefore recommends you the same thing again. But YT (or Google in general) tracks your general interests, not only on YT itself but over many sites using Google Analytics embedded in a significant part of the web pages.

It is probably correct to assume, that watching this video somehow aligns with your interests. And that you've implicitly shown these interests by watching other videos on YT or by visiting other sites while not being in incognito mode. Or the video was included in a site you've visited recently. So the recommendation does not completely come out of the blue and there is no need to actually track you in incognito mode to recommend you this video.

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Recommendations based on IP address can still work. They don't have to confirm whether that incognito user is really you. They can assume that even if it's not you, it is atleast someone who is closer to you. So they can recommend that to anyone behind that IP address including you.

Recommendations also depends on your watch history and how likely you will click to see it. Together with browser fingerprinting, it can produce more accurate results. Incognito doesn't anonymize you from web service. It only separates your private session from persistent ones.

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  • Do they use recommendations by IP? I cannot replicate what the OP experienced. Can you?
    – schroeder
    Nov 1 '20 at 9:05
  • @schroeder As targeted advertising relies on location, IP can be one of the several factors they use for recommendations. It's not reproducible because we don't know what other factors are involved.
    – defalt
    Nov 1 '20 at 9:43
  • But I can't get anything to work. I'm trying to get YouTube to recognise me and I can't.
    – schroeder
    Nov 1 '20 at 9:52
  • @schroeder It's not that straight forward. It doesn't recognise you as such. It can recommend you the same video based on your closeness to the one who watched it and whether your watch history fits with the video they want to recommend. I've had it happened 2 or 3 times when the same video was suggested on YouTube web (logged in Google account) when I watched it in YouTube client (no Google account).
    – defalt
    Nov 2 '20 at 14:15
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I'd like to see this effect replicated. I could not replicate it.

I installed a new browser, used incognito mode, and did not log in to my Google account in the browser. I browsed a highly-searched, well-indexed, high-hit search term with great SEO. I clicked around a few different videos. I closed the browser, then repeated the process 2 times. Each time, and the 3rd time I loaded Youtube, I was not presented with any videos even remotely close to the search term.

I logged into Google in the non-private browser, then launched incognito, then loaded Youtube, and I got the same generic results.

I suspect that your recollection and assumption about how unique this search term is to that one session is incorrect. And I also suspect that you have done something that ties the incognito browser to your Youtube sessions.

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  • Notice that I didn't search a "highly-searched, well-indexed, high-hit search term with great SEO". And then, I really watched these videos, I spent about 30 or 60 minutes with them.
    – musialmi
    Nov 2 '20 at 7:02
  • I know you didn't. But that's what makes my test more likely. They recommend videos for a reason because they think the videos they recommend will keep you on the site and watching. Normally, by watching those kinds of videos, someone's recommendation feed gets flooded with more of them.
    – schroeder
    Nov 2 '20 at 7:32
  • Can you replicate the effect?
    – schroeder
    Nov 2 '20 at 7:33
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There's a lot of different ways companies can infiltrate your data privacy for marketing. The thing is that for any browser, incognito mode doesn't actually do much at all to protect you from tracking. Incognito mode is intended to mainly protect your privacy from those around you, like with it's useful feature of deleting search history automatically. Also your using Google Chrome, owned by Google which participates in the data market. Sense YouTube is owned by Google that makes it easy for them to keep track of you. Here's somethings they'll know with incognito mode on or off

  • They know your public IP address
  • They can use JavaScript to fingerprint your device and get detailed info on it
  • They can slap tracking cookies and other things of a similar purpose onto your device

Incognito mode is much less effective at hiding what you do from entities across the internet and a lot better when it comes to people around you. I do know a bit about digital privacy so if your wondering about how to improve your privacy feel free to ask.

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  • Can you replicate what the OP experienced? I couldn't. Sure, there's lots of stuff Google could do. But are they?
    – schroeder
    Nov 1 '20 at 9:05
  • To be quite honest I don't think it's much of a question really. Google has definitely showed they are not very interested in strong privacy practice. And, as shown, it's made a lot of money for them. It's almost certain that if a person like OP uses one of their services like YouTube, they can and will use in depth methods to milk that sweet sweet personal data. Nov 2 '20 at 19:15

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