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Who Owns Your Analytics Data? You, Your Visitors or Google?

Google announced an interesting new opt-out feature for Google Analytics today. From their blog:

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.  

At HubSpot, we often get asked whether someone should use Google Analytics. My typical response, when asked, is to say, "Why not? It's free, and it measures different data and presents data differently than HubSpot's marketing analytics ."  That has developed into the standard answer at HubSpot as we've trained more of our consultants and salespeople. As a result, many of our customers use our analytics tools and Google Analytics side by side. In fact, here's a case study a partner just published that shows data from both tools.

But, I'm left perplexed regarding the purpose of this new opt-out feature.  For marketers, web site analytics is a key tool to help determine ROI of marketing activities and expenditures and help improve conversion paths on a site. It's a key pillar of the inbound marketing methodology that enables businesses to convert visitors into lead and leads into sales . And the data that is important is the aggregate number of visitors and users on a site. The aggregate numbers and trends are what a marketer cares about. But, what happens if a decent percentage of visitors opt out of being tracked? 

  • Leads and sales can't be tied back to marketing activities such as SEO, PPC, email marketing, social media, press releases, etc.
  • Visitor, page view counts, etc. become inaccurate. 

Furthermore, individual user's personal data is not needed in order to draw marketing conclusions, and Google doesn't actually collect personally identifiiable information through Google Analytics. They actually don't allow you to do it either. From their terms of use

7. PRIVACY . You will not (and will not allow any third party to) use the Service to track or collect personally identifiable information of Internet users, nor will You (or will You allow any third party to) associate any data gathered from Your website(s) (or such third parties' website(s)) with any personally identifying information from any source as part of Your use (or such third parties' use) of the Service. You will have and abide by an appropriate privacy policy and will comply with all applicable laws relating to the collection of information from visitors to Your websites. You must post a privacy policy and that policy must provide notice of your use of a cookie that collects anonymous traffic data. 

If I were completely reliant on Google Analytics right now for my business, I'd be questioning who really owns my analytics data? Google? Me? Or my site visitors?

While I generally applaud Google's significant efforts to help us little people maintain some vestige of privacy as we share more and more data with the borg, knowingly or not, I don't understand the point of this move. Is this a trade-off that needs to made? 

It's an interesting issue. I feel like I'm questioning God when I question Google. I'm not sure I have the right answer, either. But, Google's move perplexes me, from the perspective of a marketer, especially.  What do you think?

Updated 10:08 AM - The Onion has a hilarious take on this one. 


Google Opt Out Feature Lets Users Protect Privacy By Moving To Remote Village (Found via bengriffithsme )

Update 10:20 AM - Patricio Robles from econsultancy says :

Needless to say, publishers using Google Analytics will probably not be thrilled at the prospect that certain data won't be collected from a potentially larger number of users. After all, when it comes to web analytics, more is better for most publishers. 

Update 10:23 AM - Frederic Lardinois from ReadWriteWeb says :

If opting out of Google Analytics becomes a widespread phenomenon, this could have wide-reaching consequences for site owners. After all, having detailed analytics about your visitors allows site owners and publishers to tweak their marketing efforts. 

Update 10:25 AM - Matt McGee from Searchengineland gets a comment from Google

Webmasters may be concerned about losing the integrity of their Google Analytics data because it won't be tracking as many web visitors...

...Asked about the impact on web site owners, Google Analytics Group Product Manager Amy Chang sounded unconcerned. "Analytics reports will continue to provide advertisers with robust and valuable data to help improve their websites and advertising campaigns," she said via email.

Seems like a non-answer. 

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