Ask a Gay Nerd: Can My Administrator See My YouTube History?

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Editor’s note: Ali here! Hello! Sometimes y’all send me emails — anything from questions about dildos to questions about your computer. A lot of you do this, so I don’t always get to your questions right away. Sometimes I don’t get to your questions at all. Sometimes I mean to get to your question, and then I have six deadlines and I forget (I’m sorry about that). And sometimes I actually do not know the answer to your question. It’s something I hate admitting — if I had my way, I’d know everything about everything all the time forever and ever. Luckily, we do have someone like that on staff. So when I didn’t know and couldn’t definitively find the answer, I turned to our Tech Director, Cee Webster. Here’s the question and what Cee came up with:

I’m hoping you can help me with a tech question, as I’m freaking out currently. I’m a teacher and was logged onto my school Gmail on my home computer for some stuff and closed the window instead of signing out. I was on YouTube which was then linked to my school Gmail account and clicked on a book club discussion video for Tipping the Velvet (titled “Vaginal Fantasy #19: Tipping the Velvet: Featuring Hannah Hart”). ANYWHO, I realized I was signed in under my school e-mail after I clicked on this video (which sounds a whole lot worse than it was, at least the three minutes of it I watched before massively loosing my shit). I quickly signed out of my school account and closed the page. Is this something I should contact my school tech person about? Or should I just pretend it didn’t happen?? I’m in a SUPER conservative district and already not liked by administration for being “too political.” Or is this stuff not really monitored if it’s coming from a home computer? I know I didn’t do anything wrong, but I feel like this could potentially get me into some major shit…

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Hello reader!

Don’t panic! It looks like you’re in the clear. From what I can tell, Google Apps admins can not see your web search or YouTube history from the admin panel. The only way they could see the history would be if they had your password and logged in as you. I’m assuming you set your own password, so you’re fine. If not, go in and change your password so only you have it.

As an admin, the only way I can gain access to a user’s account would be to change their password and then log in as them. You’d know this had happened though, because your password would no longer work. So unless they made you reset your password recently, this did not happen.

Google saves your web search and browsing history to help predict and tweak your future search results. Fortunately you can see the history, and delete certain searches or sites. Log into your work account and go see yours[Editor’s note: this is hilarious. The last two things I searched for were “lemongrab gif” and “don quixote bowl.” I recommend doing this regardless of whether or not you have a problem with your search history. Just for lolz.] Your admins can’t see this – only you can. Find that video anyway and  delete it for your own peace of mind.

You can also completely turn off your search and browsing history from your work account going forward, to prevent future freak-outs.

So there you have it! You’re totally safe! To celebrate, here’s the video you were trying to watch — you can definitely get through more than three minutes of it this time.

I'm the tech director for Autostraddle, which means I oversee all the tech-related stuff and do anything from coding the website to keeping the servers online. I also enjoy finding ways technology can make it easier for our writers to work. Apart from Autostraddle, I really enjoy making things, breaking things and then fixing them again, taking pictures, getting outside, making food, working on my house and garden, and travel. They/them.

cee has written 16 articles for us.

17 Comments

  1. Hey there. I am one of the google Admins at a super conservative school. This answer is spot on. No one has been in your account unless your password has suddenly changed. And even if I were to snoop in someone’s account there is so much to look at I’d pretty much have to suspect that you have watched dirty you tube videos to go hunting there. It’s always safest to keep work for work and play for play, but no one I’ve ever met has time to be snooping into staff accounts just to see if maybe they have looked up something fishy.

    • OK, I like it, thank you for info. But what if the admin (in this case very energetic and malicious type of human), were to keystroke-log a user’s password, change password –at time of day when less likely to be noticed, e.g. dead of night– sync accounts & browse away, then re-set password to original, and delete password-change notification e-mail on their way out? Would this allow them to see a worker’s entire google history?

  2. I’m a SysAdmin, and at my work, because of the type of firewall we have, we can see when individual machines have been on Youtube (and who was signed on at the time), but not what they were watching while they were on there. So, if you are super worried, find a short video about a teaching method of some kind, that might be useful in your classroom, or something you could show the kids, and if someone asks why you were on Youtube, tell them that it was about some teaching thing, and show them the safe video, if they want to see.

    • This user was accessing their work google account from their home network, so they are safe there.

      FWIW I can see what URLs people access from within my network if I cared to see (which I don’t). I think most sysadmins don’t have time, nor would care if they were able to see your traffic anyway. I’m guessing they’d only look if a boss or someone specifically requested them to.

        • My browsing history is a public record, which sometimes freaks me the hell out, even though if someone requested it all they’d learn is that I’m obsessed with local political blogs & I am constantly researching movie times.

  3. Some highlights of my history I just discovered and had forgotten about:

    ‘Tortoise nose whistle’
    ‘Openly gay currently active rugby players’
    ‘Are cars vegan?’
    ‘Teri hatcher superman’ (…like 3 times in one day, paints quite the picture!)

  4. my favorite of my recent searches is definitely “what did tarcy morgan do” which i searched last night while watching SNL and trying to remember why my roommates and I all had this vague negative feeling towards Tracy Morgan but couldn’t remember his actual offense (turns out there’s a lot. He has a whole “controversies” section on his wikipedia page).

    “what did tarcy morgan do” indeed.

  5. OK, I like it, thank you for info. But what if the admin (in this case very energetic and malicious type of human), were to keystroke-log a user’s password, change password –at time of day when less likely to be noticed, e.g. dead of night– sync accounts & browse away, then re-set password to original, and delete password-change notification e-mail on their way out? Would this allow them to see a worker’s entire google history?

    • I am probably missing something, but… I don’t think they could delete the password change email AFTER they changed the password back. There would be evidence.

      …Oh, and going by your example, which I admittedly do not fully understand: If they had the old password, why would they make a new one? (Sorry, I am a complete idiot when it comes to administration.)

      • Wait, after letting that marinate a bit longer, I think the password email is a confirmation… I’m still pretty sure you can’t delete the email and then confirm the change, but that’s just me. Well, if it’s actually possible to leave no evidence behind, you can all kindly ignore my previous post.

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