In the wake of the various privacy problems we have seen with Google and Facebook, both companies have been trying to find a way to get some good privacy publicity. One of the many things that people complain about is how much information sites track about you when you visit. Google has decided that it needs to help this process by allowing users to hide from Google Analytics tracking.

I use Google Analytics for my sites as many other people do. It is one of the few free options that also gives you good reporting capabilities, custom events and segmentation. What Google has done is provide a browser add-on for the user so that their visit is not tracked. This is all done in the name of user privacy. They have also included more settings for the site owner to anonymize the IP address of the user, but still provide geographic reporting. Google is also downplaying the effects this browser add-on will have in a nice quote from a ReadWriteWeb post:

According to Google spokesman Brian Richardson only 1 in 15 visitors to Google’s Ads Preferences Manager actually decides to opt out of Google’s personalized advertising program.

As a site owner, obviously I have a general problem with this idea, regardless of how much adoption Google thinks it might have. Analytics are the only way that site owners know what is occurring on their pages. The benefit of solutions like Google Analytics is that they provide a simple implementation and good reporting without the site owner needing to know much technology. The JavaScript tracking that they provide is also much simpler than the previous generation of analytics tools. Those tools would analyze the logs from your web server to determine user behavior. However, web server logs do not contain the type of information that allow the site owner to take action.

The amount of work required to create a useful analytics tracking tool is large. Most site owners cannot afford those types of projects. This can really affect how site owners can improve their sites. If there were a significant number of people hiding from analytics tracking tools, many of your favorite features may not exist. Product recommendations on ecommerce sites rely heavily on analytics tracking. Ease of use improvements are typically driven by analytics tracking. All of those cool visualizations on how people use your site, like heat maps or knowing that peoples eyes move in the form of an F, all rely on analytics tracking. In the end, site owners will always find a way to track their users.

Why would Google make this choice? Was this just an offering to the privacy zealots? Will Google Analytics tracking adoption be harmed by this type of move? Will site owners be looking for other solutions? I know I am planning to review any free analytics solutions that are available. If you are an analytics tool provider, please leave your information in the comments. Maybe this move by Google was good for your business.

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