Will We Be Able to Continue Working with Google Analytics?
You may have seen this news where Meta threatens to shut down its main services (Facebook and Instagram) in Europe. Or this other one about the rejection of Google Analytics as a web analytics tool in Austria and, more recently, in France for the same reasons. Also, the declaration of GDPR non-compliance in Germany by Google Fonts. The tug-of-war between the EU and the US on data privacy and new legislation related to major players in privacy and online advertising is causing quite a stir, and unsettling updates appear in the media every day.
At Runroom, we closely monitor updates and contemplate hypotheses to anticipate any decision that could affect the analytics systems used by our clients. As a result of these internal reflections, and to help clarify doubts, we summarize some key aspects of the conflict in this post.
The situation originates from some time ago with the breakdown of the Safe Harbor (2016) and Privacy Shield (2020) agreements on privacy and data protection between the US and the EU. Since then, no agreement has been reached between the European commissions, the US administration, and private companies, leaving the matter in legislative limbo that has led to the unilateral decision of some countries to declare the use of these tools illegal.
As of today, according to current European legislation, it is not possible to send data from the EU to US servers. The issue is that US legislation allows access to all user information stored on any national server for legal investigations. So, although the EU does not approve of this practice, major platforms send tracking data of EU users to their US servers to enhance their advertising impacts through Artificial Intelligence algorithms, among other applications.
And this is not an exclusive issue with Google; other analytics tools not mentioned in the media are also in the same situation, such as Adobe Analytics. Therefore, this could mean the end of analytics as we currently know it.
To understand a bit more, we would have to analyze what is considered "private data of European users." For example, the information sent to Google Analytics is anonymized, but if we cross-reference the information sent through the IP (even if it's not visible in any GA report) or the Client ID with external data - such as ISP or CRM data - it would allow us to obtain personal information about users.
In any case, there could be options that respect data privacy. One alternative would be to use Google Analytics Server Side and store this information in BigQuery databases located on European servers, extracting the information through DataStudio. Or use other tools developed in Europe that would allow us to comply with data protection legislation, such as Mixpanel, Fathom, or Matomo Analytics in their SaaS versions, or in some cases even Onpremise, among others.
Of course, these options would require a migration project of the current measurement, tagging, and reporting system, and also, it would be necessary to analyze what happens with historical data.
Knowing all this:
Do we believe that Google Analytics will be disabled in Europe and/or in Spain?
Well, in our opinion, and although we cannot be 100% certain, the answer is no.
On February 4th, Google already announced that it was working on implementing a mechanism that would allow us to operate under the current data protection law, and that it would soon share the options it had considered for this. We will stay alert.
We hope to have shed light on the subject, and this information has reassured you in case of doubt. We assume that, little by little, uncertainties will be clarified, and the best decisions can be made about the steps to follow to keep our analytics systems in line with the legislation, without losing the history we may have.
And if, in the end, everything is clarified, and Google Analytics continues to be our measurement platform legally... well, that's it, right? No!
Beyond how the situation we have discussed evolves, Google clearly advocates for a change in the measurement system and will eventually stop supporting older versions. Therefore, we will have to start thinking about developing a migration project from analytics with Universal Analytics or Google Analytics 3 to analytics with Google Analytics 4. We will also need to closely follow information related to the use of third-party cookies and how they intend to address it with the new Privacy Sandbox promoted by Google for user segmentation, following the failure of the FLoC proposal.
But that's a topic for another post ;)