YouTube, by its nature, is a public platform, and you don’t have to look very far to find people who have found themselves accidentally going viral.
So can YouTube videos be private? Yes, yes they can.
When you upload footage to YouTube, you have three options, each with their own pros and cons: public, private and unlisted.
YouTube Public mode
YouTube’s Public mode is pretty self explanatory. If you upload your YouTube video as public, it’s going to be indexed and anybody could stumble upon it using the built-in search function.
Do bear in mind that the chances of your video surfacing are still pretty remote. Back in 2017, when parent company Google still published such things, YouTube was getting 65 years’ worth of content uploaded every day. It’s likely more now, so the chances that your home video will get spotted by anyone is remote. But it’s still a possibility.
YouTube Private mode
With Private videos, you upload as normal, but then nominate the people that can have access. They need a YouTube/Google account, of course (though who doesn’t have a Google account in 2020?), but only people who have been whitelisted can watch. Obviously they could be hacked, or they could show the video to somebody else, but it’s about as secure as YouTube gets.
The drawback here is that you’re limited in the number of accounts you can share with, and at the time of writing that number is 50. So while this may be ideal for old holiday videos, it’s not a solution for something you’re trying to put behind a paywall, say.
YouTube Unlisted mode
Unlisted is the middle ground between Public and Private. Unlisted videos can be accessed by anybody, but only if they have the URL. Technically someone could stumble across your video by chance by entering random URLs, but the odds of that happening are vanishingly small.
However, while it gets around the 50 cap for private videos, it’s not without its risks from a privacy perspective.
Firstly, there’s nothing stopping somebody you trust with the URL passing it on to somebody that you don’t. Secondly, while private videos can’t be embedded, unlisted ones can – which means if your video is newsworthy, then there’s nothing stopping a journalist publishing it (other than a note from YouTube advising people to use their discretion).
If none of these options quite work for you, then you’ll just have to find another option. Vimeo, Facebook and Google Photos all have their merits, or you might be better off sharing an option directly via cloud storage.
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