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Hi, I'm Alfredo Matos, a research engineer, programmer and entrepreneur from Portugal. This is my old (and closed) blog. It exists only as an archive. For more information head over to alfredomatos.com or follow me on twitter.

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Google Analytics Privacy

I’ve recently engaged in a privacy discussion about Google Analytics (GA). Coincidentally it also popped up on TechCruch, after an announcement from Google that they’re releasing a GA blocking addon that allows users to opt-out of being tracked.

But the question still stands: Is GA a privacy violation or not?

GA has a sane Privacy Agreement, along with some reasonable Terms of Service. As one could hope, the data you upload to GA is your use of the service, and belongs only to you. But if you believe in Big Brother theories or just like your privacy, the estimate is that more than 50% of the web is using GA, and that Google can track everything about you: clicks, time on page, referrers, sites visited, the works. And if you consider the not-so-nice cookies that google uploads into your browser, which is neither explained nor understandable, some evil thoughts come to mind.

However, for me it is a matter of choice. And when you enter my website, I’ve made that decision for you. By using GA on my website I was uploading your browsing habits as part of my statistics collection. I did not offer an opt-out/in choice to allow a 3rd party service to be the resting place of the gathered information. Even though the details about statistics gathering and storage concerns mostly me (as the service) and will not be available (in principle) to anyone else, it is my job to tell you if information gets sent to another service and make it your choice to allow that.

Right now, you can disable GA manually by blocking their javascript, or use Adblock Plus for Firefox. You’ll also be able to block it with the google plugin when it comes. This if fine for users who are aware of this. However, most of us don’t even know what that means, let alone use it.

Google is already taking a few steps these issues and avoid the “evil” rep. But more could and should be made. An opt-out should be in place. There should be informed consent when you land on a website that uses GA (and uploads to Google). There should be a button or banner alerting the user that “This website uses Google Analytics”, like we serve those pretty banners stating that our sites are XHTML compliant. And there should be cookies on the browser that services respects, opting out , deterring the website from serving the the javascript – the “tracking: disabled;” cookie.

Given all of the above, the solution is to keep the gathered information local. I’ve moved away from Google Analytics to Piwik. Statistics are now only gathered and stored locally, properly anonymized, where the information belongs and is available, with open source technology. Installing Piwik is just a matter of uploading it to a folder on the server, and skimming through the setup (requires a MySQL database). Then it works pretty much like Google Analytics, but without uploading your visitor’s information to Google.

Still, there should be a negotiation to which information you want to provide. One thing is to track HTTP requests on the serve, whilst another is providing the user with a javascript file that gathers large amounts of information. Opt-in and negotiate, that’s what I say.

Posted By alfmatos

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About Me

Hi, I'm Alfredo Matos. I'm a research engineer from Portugal, with a passion for inventing new things and working on future technologies. I'm also a programmer and entrepreneur. For more information check out my main website alfredomatos.com.