Germany Considers Google Analytics Ban

By Craig Buckler
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German Analytics banGoogle Analytics, the world’s most popular website statistical analysis system, could be illegal in Germany. Government officials responsible for national data protection are attempting to ban Analytics on the grounds that it breaches privacy laws.

Collating detailed web statistics used to be a time-consuming task. Site owners either resorted to rudimentary page counters or web server log analyzers such as AWstats or WebTrends. Although these provide valuable data, the information is generally better suited for systems administrators rather than Internet marketers.

Google acquired Analytics from Urchin Software in April 2005. Although it was originally a commercial package, Google re-branded the system and permitted unlimited free use from 2006. Rather than analyzing log files, Analytics uses a JavaScript snippet which is placed on every page of a website. The code collects visitor data and sends it to Google’s servers for processing.

The real power of Analytics is evident in the reports. Data is normally processed within hours of collation and the system offers a huge range of analysis tools. The dashboards and attractive charts are a dream for marketers and statisticians. Today, it’s tough to find a major site that does not use Google Analytics, including an estimated 13% of German publishers.

The success of Google Analytics causes concern for German privacy protection officials. Conceivably, Google would be able to track an individual’s movements throughout the web and collate information from websites that hold personal data, such as banks and insurance companies. In theory, Google could create profiles that include information about a person’s interests, career, lifestyle, wealth, health, political and sexual preferences. If that individual has a Google account, the company could match a profile against a known user.

The German authorities are also concerned data is moved away from the country and stored on US servers. Privacy protection laws are different in the US and, potentially, Google could move information to countries where such laws are non-existent.

There’s no evidence Google is profiling users in this way, but the company is secretive about how data is collated, processed and used. A Google spokesman argued that users could opt-out of data collection by disabling JavaScript or refusing cookies.

Unfortunately, German lawyers are already drooling at the prospect of anti-privacy cases. One claimed that German websites using Google Analytics could be fined up to US$75,000.

Do you use Analytics on your websites? Are you concerned about potential privacy breaches? Or is the system so useful that privacy no longer matters?

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