Google/Youtube seriously creepy – tracks me across systems and off-line, though I have no account
Today I had a creepy experience on YouTube. And by that I don’t mean a scary video. Much worse that that.
Background: I have many computers, running a few different operating systems. The one I’m blogging from has a Free and Open Source system while most others run different versions of Microsoft Windows, all with different settings and applications for privacy. I use a VPN service, this on both of the computers I’ll be talking about here. A VPN service with several IP addresses, that are shared among users simultaneously, and randomly assigned for every time one connects.
This is what happened: The other computer, running a version of Microsoft Windows (for anonymity reasons I will not expose more details than necessary, but it is not Windows 10), was currently not connected to the network, and hence, not to the Internet. I used it to look at some pictures from two games, pictures that had the names of the games in the file names. Later, I used it to watch YouTube, using the VPN service, Mozilla Firefox, NoScript – disabled only for youtube.com and ytimg.com – and a few other privacy- and ad-block plug-ins, including LSO- and cookie removal.
I have no Google account, and only use YouTube as a guest. When I entered YouTube it looked about as usual, recommendations from what is popular in Sweden and worldwide, mostly. When I had searched and seen a few (completely unrelated) videos, I got a recommendation in the column to the right, of a video where the thumbnail displayed a character from one of the very games I had been seeing pictures from earlier. A character that was in a few of said pictures.
While it is a pretty well-known game, I have only seen video recommendations about it one or two times earlier, and it was years since I watched a video relating to it. This far, it could of course have been a coincidence, but this is what happened next.
Soon I returned to YouTube’s start page, and found a video with a thumbnail containing characters in the same style as the other game – a very specific and easy-to-recognize style. I’m not entirely sure that they were from that particular game as I haven’t played it, but they were very similar.
Also, on the same start page, there was a recommended channel with a video with a title of a clearly negative opinion of prank videos. That is something that I have discussed on this blog, that it seems like ”prank” has become an excuse for all kinds of very violent, dangerous and traumatizing acts, and that many people for some inexplicable reason seem to enjoy watching it, thereby funding the perpetrators. It is also something that I have searched for, maybe sometime using Google, but mostly DuckDuckGo. Anyway, both searching and blogging has been done from this computer, and not from the one I watched YouTube on, being recommended said channel. Also, the searches gave extremely little, so it is a very unusual opinion to voice.
I have no proof that Google can track me off-line and across unrelated systems, and I don’t know how especially the latter could possibly happen – especially as I use a VPN, block all Google script except where it is necessary, and have two different systems with essentially nothing in common – but try explaining what recently happened if they can’t. This makes me seriously uncomfortable.