Google Announces Plans to Offer a Google Analytics Opt-Out

by Simon. Average Reading Time: about 3 minutes.

Yesterday Google announced that it had been developing opt-out functionality for its Analytics product, seemingly in response to growing unease with United States and European regulators.

As an enterprise-class web analytics solution, Google Analytics not only provides site owners with information on their website traffic and marketing effectiveness, it also does so with high regard for protecting user data privacy. Over the past year, we have been exploring ways to offer users more choice on how their data is collected by Google Analytics. We concluded that the best approach would be to develop a global browser based plug-in to allow users to opt out of being tracked by Google Analytics. Our engineers are now hard at work finalizing and testing this opt-out functionality. We look forward to make it globally available to our users in the coming weeks.

This was an unexpected move, but possibly a very smart one by Google, which aspires to turn its Analytics product into an “enterprise-class web analytics solution.” Many analysts will see the creation of a browser plugin to opt-out of Analytics counterintuitive. Rationalising web analytics is already hard enough, but if you now need to factor in a proportion of people who may have opted-out, it will create a minefield of doubt. Furthermore, if people are able to opt-out of Google Analytics, will enterprises want to use it as an analytics solution?

It is safe to assume that Google do not want to kill one of their key products, which sits neatly between their search and advertising businesses. Indeed Google aren’t the first to create and opt-out, with Omniture and Webtrends having already created a cookie-based solution.

So why shouldn’t you be too worried about Google’s plugin?

  • Opt-out does not signal a death knell for data gathering. Although some people will undoubtedly be concerned about tracking and therefore download the plugin, the vast majority of users will not. Furthermore, it is the trends in analytics that are important rather than absolute numbers. Analysts will simply need to study, manage and quantify the resulting bias. Such issues are analagous with a user deleting cookies or disabling JavaScript in their browser.
  • Good privacy management reinforces trust in a brand that has been under attack over the amount of data it collects on its users. This in turn will drive long-term acceptance of Google products and enhance its earning potential. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, this move shows good faith to regulators and sets the stage for Google Analytics to operate safely within the containts of more stringent privacy regulations in the United States and more importantly Europe. If Google Analytics is allowed to operate freely on this basis, it may boost usage and advertising revenues, which in turn will maintain it as an important product for Google.
  • Opt-in customers are better customers because they provide an accurate picture of how they use your website and therefore are key in helping you improve the user experience. Focusing your efforts on those who are willing to be measured may enhance the achievement of site goals.

How should you prepare for the launch of the plugin?

  • Benchmark your data (traffic, visitors etc) before and after the release of the opt-out plugin. That way, you will be able to determine the potential bias between the figures and adjust the reports accordingly.
  • Understand how to accommodate the opt-out bias in your reports and determine which reports may need recalibration.
  • Understand how the change in your Google Analytics metrics may compare to or impact upon 3rd party metrics, for example those used to calculate advertising revenue.
  • Determine whether announcing the possibility of your users opting out will enhance the trust of your website, with the view to potentially alerting to your users that they have such an opportunity.
    • This move by Google is likely to set the trend amongst Analytics providers since online privacy is a major issue. Most modern browsers include an “incognito” setting, which allows for private browsing, therefore it stands to reason that the analytics providers will follow Google’s lead, even if it is only a cynical attempt to reassure users and maintain market share.

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