This week in Google Analytics news: German officials are trying to ban websites based in their country from using Google Analytics (you can read the full story at TechCrunch). They claim that Google is collecting personally identifiable information without users’ consent, and that this could potentially break privacy laws. To me, this is a great example of people being terrified of technology that they don’t understand.
Before all the German villagers bust out the pitchforks and torches, let’s get one thing straight: Google Analytics does not collect any personally-identifiable information. Period. As a frequent user of Google Analytics, the most I can tell about someone is what city they (or most likely, their internet service provider) is from, what pages they’ve visited on the site, and how long they spent there. Sure, there’s a lot else that I could do with that information to improve my website or marketing campaigns, but there is no freaking way that I could decode an individual’s identity from my Google Analytics data. And that’s assuming that I would have the time or inclination to do so, since there’s no way I could possibly benefit from that information. The value of Google Analytics comes from analyzing web traffic data in the aggregate, not on an individual level.
Of course, the majority of the German government’s ire is likely directed at the data that Google itself collects. Everyone likes to paint Google as this totalitarian vacuum of internet data, parsing our identities and dirty little secrets in their data centers. Let me ask you this: assume you were leading a company that collected petabytes of data every day. How the hell could you even look for one individuals data in all of that mess? What possible benefit could you get from that? Picking the needle of one user’s data out of the mile-high haystack of Google data would take hours (maybe even days) and cost a ridiculous amount of money in payroll and resources. Even if Google wanted to figure out your individual browsing history, it would not make economic sense for them to do so. Like I said before, the value of Google data is in the aggregate, not in the individual.
Web analytics is not a threat to online privacy, and causing a ban on it would do a great disservice to web users everywhere. Without analytics data, you can’t improve for usability, or determine what the most-needed features of your website are. I sincerely hope that the folks in the German web industry wake their government up to what a stupid, ill-advised idea this is, and stop the Google witch hunt.