Posted March 19, 2010 8:05 am by with 31 comments

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Take a look at the Google Analytics chart to the right.

Now imagine yourself waking up one day to see your web site’s traffic taking such a dramatic drop.

Did you get banned by Google? Is your site down?

Nope! But everyone just opted out of Google Analytics–rendering your dashboard useless.

Far fetched? Not too much. Not when you consider that Google has decided to build a browser plugin that will allow web users to prevent their data being collected by Google Analytics.

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.

Say it with me: crap!

Why would Google cripple a product that doesn’t really reveal any personal information about a visitor to your site. OK, so in theory, you could track down an IP or network host and possibly string together their browsing habits and maybe figure out where they live, but does that warrant such a move?

What I don’t get is the double standards Google is displaying here. Basically, us site owners can’t be trusted with anonymous data, but Google can continue to invade a user’s privacy by keeping their search history? Where’s the plugin that lets me opt-out of Google keeping–and analyzing–my search history? Heck, there’s not even an easy way to opt-out of personalized search results!

C’mon Google. What’s good for us, is good for you. If you’re truly taking a stand on protecting a user’s privacy, let’s not keep one foot planted on a big ole rock of hypocrisy!

  • I really like Google analytics but if this really goes through we won’t have another option than to switch our website analytics package! Very strange move of Google if not to say plainly stupid!

    And the double standards you refer to make it an even weirder step.

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention!

  • Dean

    This is really kinda bizarre and does neuter GA. Something don’t smell right. I mean we’ve gone from Buzz to this? Has Google gone bi-polar on us?

    BTW, what is the phone number for Yahoo Web Analytics?

  • This move baffles me. I understand they’re getting a lot of heat for privacy right now, but I don’t think this move is quite what anyone had in mind. Like you say, Andy, what about personalized search results or Google Street View?

    I know folks like Avinash Kaushik say that imperfect data is still very useful when taken with the appropriate size grain of salt. It seems to me this will add to the skepticism.

    Does anyone see other companies doing this? If they don’t follow suit, companies like Coremetrics and Omniture just got another huge reason why it’s useful to pay for Web Analytics. That’s it… I’m ponying up the $4.99/month for Clicky Web Analytics (and they’ll even let me “spy” on people real-time!).
    .-= Josh Braaten´s last blog ..Squarespace Vs. the World: The Best Blogging Platform Quest Continues =-.

    • You make a good point. GA is free, so Google can take liberties like this. When you’re paying for a product, you wouldn’t tolerate something like this. Perhaps we’ll see more companies switch away from GA.

  • Laurent

    Any other good free alternatives?

    You do have to keep in mind that most users are not even aware of google analytics, let alone plugins that can disable it.

    It does seem like a stupid and useless move by Google though…

  • Great point Andy – if Google requires an opt in for GA data, the integrity of data collected will be undermined and be rendered useless. I’m sure paid analytics providers are loving this move – does anyone have the contact info for a good Coremetrics rep?
    .-= Anthony´s last blog ..Brand Lift and Post-Impression Performance =-.

  • Let’s not forget the industry factor here. Everyone on the industry will know about this and make a big stink but the VAST majority of people will A) Not even know it’s an option B) Not even know what it really means even if they are told the option C) Will likely treat it like the T & C’s of everything online (meaning they will ignore it).

    Google is playing a big time PR move with this kind of thinking because they know darn well that the people who are “in the know” are just a blip out of the total people who are surfing the web and cry as we will (and we will because there may not be a more whiney industry on the planet) it won’t matter in the big picture because our power comes from our PERCEPTION of our influence. The search insider industry is not as powerful as it is boastful.
    .-= Frank Reed´s last blog ..SMB Social Media Adoption Rate Doubles =-.

    • Dean

      I think your right Frank. It may be much about nothing as the vast majority are not going to know/understand/implement the plug-in. I just think its a bizarre move that the competition will certainly use against them. I agree that it is some kinda ill-conceived PR move.

      Also, as a practitioner I don’t want you to do anything with my data that might skew it in a way that’s hard to interpret. How will I know how much a change in traffic is due to adoption of the plugin. That interpretation and uncertainty makes a hard job just a little harder.

  • I’m was thinking of switching to Google Analytics but i figure it’s still smarter to stay on Piwik for now.

    How many of people will download this plug-in anyways ?

  • Sooji

    Gathering from my customer base, I suspect that very very few of them if any will be using this plugin. It is s till a scary thought, but I doubt it will affect me much.

  • GA has been infuriating me for months. I like some of what was built out, but as our small biz clients have grown and been able to afford paid solutions that include clickstreams, we’ve been moving them there. Auto-tagging AdWords isn’t enough of a draw. Limiting us to 25 profiles means we have to create increasing number of Google accounts to track everyone.

    And now this.

    Google isn’t in the business of selling analytics packages (well, they are, but I’m sure Omniture laughs at them). I think that over time, people pushing the online privacy buttons will make this plugin as popular as those rotten Ad-blockers.

    I kind of get why people want those even if they don’t understand the long-run impact of removing money from the the content eco-system. But it takes a lot of work to learn an individual’s site behavior based on Google Analytics data and you have to go beyond the program to do it.. Now, however, Google can point to this initiative and argue back to privacy advocates that they also safeguard user data.

    .-= George Bounacos´s last blog ..Fencing in Your Desktop =-.

  • interesting … does that mean they FEAR the competition creating plugins for aggregation?
    .-= Darren Scott Monroe´s last blog ..Social Media 24 Hour Marathon =-.

  • Bo

    Is Google possibly setting up for a Paid GA where no data is excluded?

    What a way to start up a paid service eh? Hook thousands of accounts by offering it for free, then at the height of a privacy debate, yank opted visitor info. Thus you offer a paid service where visitor info is once again recorded.

    You can’t tell me Google didn’t see this privacy debate a long time ago. They are playing chess and they have their moves figured out months ago.

  • Tim Evans

    This is aimed at the Federal Government market, which currently prohibits use of persistent cookies in most cases. Providing this opt-out will meet future Federal requirements.

  • I really like Google analytics but if this really goes through we won’t have another option than to switch our website analytics package! Very strange move of Google if not to say plainly stupid!

    It’s true.

  • gxg

    My thoughts exactly!
    If web-surfers start opting out of Google Analytics, the information provided will no longer be relevant and there won’t be a reason to use it anymore!

  • sounds like a red herring move to me. I bet Omniture, Coremetrics and the likes are enjoying this news.
    .-= Hershel Miller´s last blog art wall artist: jen hewett =-.

  • Strange indeed.

    This gives a HUGE opportunity for another Analytics program to step in.

    Google dominates this market, even if its free. I would may a monthly fee to keep Analytics after it being a daily ritual.

    .-= Mukul Verma´s last blog ..Getting On Peoples Radars =-.

  • What a shot in the arm for Webtrends, Omniture, Coremetrics and other analytics providers — this is just a strange thing coming from the Big G — great commentary Andy. I wonder what impact at all this would have on Adwords performance & reporting via GA?

  • This is not such a big deal people… Google is actually late to the game with this one.

    Omniture and Coremetrics have been offering opt-out for as long as I can remember, Yahoo makes it a requirement (to offer it), and I’m sure vendors like Webtrends and Unica also have this option. This is just best practices to have this option available in case someone really wants out.

    Just as putting an unsubscribe link at the bottom of your newsletter won’t make 90% of your subscribers run away, Web Analytics opt-out features is not going to kill your reports.

  • Maybe this will force people to look more closely at hosting their own analytics packages? For example the copious amounts of stats plugins for WordPress..
    .-= Josh Kohlbach´s last blog ..Project Update: Up And Running With HubPages =-.

  • Philippe is correct. Opt-outs are nothing new and their existence shouldn’t make a huge difference. Just because the option exists doesn’t mean every visitor will take it, or even know about it. We (Yahoo! Web Analytics) do require our customers to include an opt-out. We’ve been doing so for 2 years.

  • Amazing post, cheers mate!
    .-= nickjett´s last blog ..Free Playstation 3 (ps3) =-.

  • Andy

    Couldn’t agree with you more concerning:

    “Where’s the plug-in that lets me opt-out of Google keeping–and analyzing–my search history? Heck, there’s not even an easy way to opt-out of personalized search results!”

    I’ve always been a big fan of Google, that is till late, where I’m finding myself doing loop-the-loops to ensure their not getting all my search history, which is essential when I’m carry out SERP ranking reports for clients.

    This latest from ganalytics could push me to look elsewhere, because the get-arounds I’ve had to implement to track downloaded PDFs, Feedburner feeds &c are, well…

  • In the event that a plugin to opt-out of GA was released, just how would it work? Will it work for every browser as part of the Google toolbar you can have installed? Unless it does, and it also comes with a in-you-face sign telling users to turn off GA, I’m not sure how much of an impact it’ll have. A lot of the non-webby people I know don’t use additional plug-ins etc.

  • Plug-ins like this have been freely available for years. Visitors can also disable javascript, cookies, or just use (most) mobile devices. In a few years, I think “ignoring page tags” will be just another checkbox built into all browsers as a basic feature, and perhaps enabled by default.

    It is possible now to compromise between the concerns of privacy advocates AND the needs web analytics users. Pion Lite is FREE software from Atomic Labs that captures data for Google Analytics (and other vendors) without using page tags, AND without sending user IP addresses, cookies, or any PIIA at all to Google. And since it uses packet sniffing, it works regardless of whether the visitor has a plugin installed or not.

    Mike Dickey
    Atomic Labs

  • Google hurting their own Analytics results, does not make any sense, but that is what happens when companies get huge. They can sometimes do stupid things.
    .-= Gregg Brown´s last blog ..Matt Cutts Talks About Organic Link Building Techniques =-.

  • Matt

    Um, there already is a way to disable google analytics: disable the specific google tracking javascript using something like Firefox’s NoScript addon.

  • I am surprised google want to do this. Why spoil something that is working just fine for us marketers. I just can’t understand why they would want to do this.

  • Joe

    Once again we see Google taking advantage of its place in the market. I suggest you do what I do and use Pion Lite.

  • My Analytic stats just plummeted and so did my revenue.

    So, to have both happening at the same time tells me it’s not just people opting out of being tracked.

    Google’s doing something strange again…lots of people complaining about large traffic drops this month.
    .-= Jordy´s last blog ..Optimization Tips for Goggle Local Business Listings =-.