Google Analytics: New browser-based, data-privacy opt out important, but what consumers really need is education
Back in March, Google got more serious about protecting user data privacy (as it should be), and to that end has announced plans for a browser-based opt-out for Google Analytics.
In typical Internet fashion, the blogs and Twitter lit up with doom and gloom news that web tracking was dead…run for the hills web analysts. In fact, it was very reminiscent of the reaction people had when Germany announced they were going to investigate the legality of Google Analytics and collecting data on their citizens. But, as with past incidents, people calmed down and life went on.
Personally, I am all for Internet privacy. We as businesses and marketers need to respect users’ wishes if they decide they do not want to be tracked (even if retail counterparts do not honor this). If a significant amount of people are choosing to opt out, then we need to adapt and find other ways to determine what our users want and need. Heaven forbid we talk or engage them more personally (see blog post of different ways to do this online).
But in talking with people that have concerns about being tracked online (especially by Google Analytics), I typically find that they simply misunderstand what the tool does. Most people with concerns feel like it is a Big Brother tool that tells us exactly who they are, tracks them after they leave our site, and relays to us every website they visit.
They lighten up significantly when I tell them that the tool is really used to anonymously look at users of our website and help us understand how to make our process, products, or websites better.
In fact, we cannot even see (at a personally identifiable level) who these people are if we are following Google Analytics’ terms of service. Once they hear this, most skeptics see the value and how it can really make the Internet a better place without negatively impacting privacy.
What I hope Google does
When Google releases this opt-out feature, my desire is they also release an FAQ page or other educational outlet to debunk the privacy myths about Google Analytics. I truly believe it is urban legends, what people do not know (fear of the unknown), or other more invasive measurement tools that cause the privacy scares. Perhaps if people are properly educated they will be less reluctant to opt out.
Whatever it decides to do, Google should err on the side of too much information. When it comes to anxiety, perception is reality. And as with any anxiety, we must overcorrect to overcome it.
But in the end, it is ultimately up to the consumer. And as painful as this is to say as a web analyst, we need to respect our visitors and their desire for privacy, even if it is a poor or wrongly informed concern.