No fear of Google (Analytics)

October 2, 2010

I just revised the PrivacyChoice privacy policy to reflect that we will be using Google Analytics to understand our users better and build a better service for them. Since this involves providing a Google service with access to PrivacyChoice user data, it may give some users pause. So it’s worth explaining how I came to this long-considered decision.

It was pretty simple: Decent and cost-effective analytics are mission critical for us to build great services for our users. After trying a number of different alternatives, Google Analytics offers a uniquely high level of functionality and economy. Piwik, the open source approach we have tried for nearly two years, is an admirable effort and allowed us to host the process directly. But it really doesn’t compare in terms of functionality, and has been difficult to maintain. In companion projects, we’ve also tried other inexpensive hosted solutions, each of  which failed us.

I’m mindful of an old blog post where I mused about whether Google might use Analytics data for ad targeting, which was really a complaint about the lack of clarity in Google’s published policy at the time. That problem has since been fixed to my own satisfaction, and for more concerned users there is an opt-out process (which unfortunately requires an add-on installation to work).

Ultimately, I have to believe that, although there’s always the risk of abuse of user data by a rogue employee (as with any hosted service), it seems very likely to me that Google takes care to enforce any boundaries that they clearly promise. Given their position in the marketplace, it is a sensible investment. It’s when they don’t make the promise or the promise isn’t clear that I get more concerned.

It’s good to agonize over decisions like this, as should any website enabling third party data collection on their site.

Next agonizer: A Facebook Like button?

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