Internet security has never been as prevalent in the public consciousness as it is now. With significant data breaches a seemingly regular occurrence in the news, double factor authentication increasingly becoming a minimum requirement, and restrictions on how your passwords can be structured making them almost impossible to remember, it’s clear that security is important.
But staying safe online is not just about secure passwords. We have never been more visible than we are right now. We have pages and pages of tweets and Facebook posts and Instagram pics, and much of it is public. Now, be honest with yourself—do you consider the full privacy implications of your social media posts before you hit send?
This post is about YouTube, so you may wonder why we’re talking about Facebook and Twitter, but all will become clear soon enough.
Still, is it safe to have a YouTube channel? Yes, if you are careful. As you grow make sure you think of privacy long term. Always pick safe secure passwords and try not to post your entirely life on the internet – that’s when it gets extremely risky.
Let’s get into it.
How Can Youtube be Dangerous?
There are different ways in which YouTube could be considered dangerous to the YouTuber posting videos, and it is essential to understand what these ways are if you have any hope of avoiding them. Let’s start with the least sinister one.
Putting All Your Eggs in the YouTube Monetisation Basket
YouTube has a patchy history when it comes to monetisation. It has made a lot of people rich, but it is also notoriously unreliable as an income source. If you’ve been in the YouTube stratosphere for a while, you’ll have heard of the “adpocalypse”.
If you’ve been around long enough, you’ll have heard of multiple adpocalypses.
This is the label name given to the various times that YouTube has made profound, seismic changes to its advertising policies and algorithms. These changes tend to negatively affect YouTuber revenue across the board, and even wipe it out entirely in some cases. One of the more recent adpocalypse’s (the fourth one, if we’re counting) saw many political punditry channels lose all of their revenue more or less overnight. And we’re talking channels with millions of subscribers here.
More recent changes have hit channels whose primary audience is children, with offensive and hateful content being targeted quite early on.
Whether you feel YouTube is overreacting in any of these cases or not isn’t the point here. The point is that in each of these cases, YouTube made significant changes—often without warning—that wiped out entire revenue streams overnight, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t happen again. So what’s the danger here?
The danger lies in your YouTube success reaching a point where you can afford to go full time, and rushing into it. Many people would happily scrape by as a YouTuber rather than make a comfortable wage doing a job they don’t like, but if you take that plunge before you are ready, and YouTube makes changes that hit your channel, you may find yourself in a very sticky situation.
How to Avoid This
First and foremost, don’t rush into a fulltime YouTube career. Be sure to weigh up your options properly, and discuss things with anyone who is likely to be affected by your decision, such as a partner you live with.
If you decide to take the leap, take your time with the transition. Try to build up a reserve of savings if you don’t already have one—at least enough money to cover a few months of living expenses—and the more, the better. That way, if things go wrong, you’ve got a bit breathing room to decide what your next move will be.
Going forward, always be on the lookout for ways to diversify your revenue streams. If you are getting your income from multiple sources, then the sudden disappearance of YouTube monetisation will not hit you as hard. Consider things like Patreon and merchandise sales. Brand deals are another way to monetise your videos without having to worry about what YouTube is planning.
Affiliate marketing can be a great long term source of income but can be a little confusing. I wrote a huge deep dive into affiliate marketing for beginners which will help you with everything you need to know about to
While not strictly a YouTube problem, the opportunities to inadvertently give away potentially damaging personal data as a YouTuber are greater—especially if you are or become popular.
The kinds of personal data we are talking about here include any information that could be used to commit fraud against you.
Let’s look at an example.
You know those security questions you often have to fill out? Things like “What was your mother’s maiden name?”, and, “What was the name of your first pet?”. If you use the real answers to those questions, and you happen to mention that bit of information in a video, you could be providing someone with a vital piece of the puzzle if they want to break into your accounts. It is easily done. After all—what’s the harm in mentioning that your first pet was a cat called Fluffy, right?
Another example of this kind of danger would be inadvertently showing a password or other sensitive information in your video. One example might be doing an unboxing video and having a clear shot of the address label. Another might be signing up for something in the video and typing a password in clear text that you use for other accounts.
How to Avoid This
Try to avoid the possibility of situations like those mentioned above happening in the first place. If you are doing an unboxing video, make sure any labels are covered up, that way you don’t have to worry about whether they end up in the shot.
The best way to prevent any of this from getting to your channel, of course, it a watchful eye in the editing process. If you don’t have an editing process, it might be time to develop one. Even if you only watch the video through to check for problems like this, you should always give your footage the once over before publishing. If nothing else it is a matter of quality control, but it also allows you to make absolutely sure you haven’t inadvertently filmed a clear shot of your credit card!
We mentioned the word “sinister” earlier on in the post, and with good reason. It is an unfortunate reality of the human experience that there are deeply unpleasant people out there. These may be people you know from your real life, such as abusive family members or people who have a grudge against you, but the Internet has its fair share of unpleasant strangers as well.
It is one thing receiving a threat of physical violence from a stranger on the Internet when they know nothing about you, but it’s an entirely different prospect when that stranger has managed to piece together your home address from the information you’ve sprinkled throughout your videos. This is something that the popular YouTuber and Twitch streamer Sweet Anita has had to deal with recently. Her situation has progressed to the point that she even had to take a restraining order out against one unhinged individual who figured out where she lived and even moved to her town permanently.
Of course, this is an extreme example, but it is not nearly as uncommon as it should be, and while most threats of violence are just that—threats—it is something that every YouTuber should be aware of going in.
How to Avoid This
The kinds of people who behave like this are not particularly prone to reason, so there is no sense in attempting to moderate your content so as not to attract the attention of dangerous individuals.
Unfortunately, the only way to really protect against this kind of thing is to keep an airtight lockdown on your personal information. Don’t let any private information become public. Doing this means careful consideration of your actions outside of YouTube, but that’s where our next topic comes in…
Keeping Your Private Information Private
Okay, most of us know not to go sharing bank details through random links, and to use a password that isn’t easily guessable, but there are many ways to inadvertently give away your personal data that are not as obvious.
For example, when you register a domain name, the name and address you register it under is publicly available and easy to find unless you pay for domain privacy protection.
Another way you might not have considered is geotagged information. For example; location data on your pictures, or routes from your latest run. It can be very tempting to share your latest Strava personal best but have you considered what information your route gives away. If you started and finished at your home, that’s not going to take much deciphering. Still, any run in your local area will allow nefarious actors to narrow down your location.
Do you use your real name on YouTube and also have a LinkedIn profile that lists your current employer? What about pictures from your home where distinguishable landmarks are visible in the shot?
Of course, there is such a thing as being paranoid, and there is only so much you can reasonably do to keep yourself safe before it becomes more practical just to stop being on YouTube altogether. A significant portion of this is knowing the risks, even if you don’t plan to mitigate all of them.
Tips for Staying Safe
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post, so we thought it would be nice to break down some of the more actionable tips for keeping yourself safe as a YouTuber.
This is not necessarily a “bare minimum” situation since every action you take should be subjectively judged on what is best for you, but these are some of the more fundamental aspects of YouTube safety. In other words, make sure you have a good reason for not doing any of the following.
Keep Your Residence Private
For most of us, our home is our set. Having a separate “studio” is a luxury that many can’t justify. Still, that doesn’t mean your home has to be recognisable.
Try to limit filming to areas where nothing distinguishable is around. For example, if you live in an apartment in New York with the Empire State Building behind you, avoid shooting with the window behind you.
Of course, it should go without saying that you shouldn’t give out your address.
Do Not Let Trackable Information Become Public
We have mentioned avoiding things like packing labels being visible in your video, but there are other ways information like that can get out. For example, if you accept packages from viewers, do not use your home address for the delivery of those packages. PO boxes may cost money, but they should be considered essential if you want to give your viewers a mailing address.
Consider using services like Google Voice instead of any landline phone numbers.
And, finally, while it may not seem like a big deal, consider keeping your birthday private, especially if your full name is public. A lot of information can be uncovered about someone with just their full name and a birthday.
Do Not Make Travel Plans Public
This tip is more of a general Internet safety tip, rather than a YouTube specific one, but announcing to the world that your house will be empty for two weeks is not a great plan.
Especially if you are a notable figure on YouTube. If you’ve handled yourself carefully, it won’t matter because no one will know your home address, but it’s better not to run the risk and come home to a ransacked house.
We know it’s generally considered vain and narcissistic to Google your own name, but you will be doing it for a good reason. Your aim is to try and stalk yourself and see what you can find out.
Remember, unless you’re a cyber-security expert, the chances are there will be people out there who can find more than you can. So, if you manage to uncover personal information about yourself through a bit of intensive Googling, you can bet others can as well.
Use this information to shut down any leaks in your online privacy, and keep you and your loved ones safe.