November 24, 2010

Google Analytics Opt-out Add-on Not Likely to Affect You


Hostway Team

By Melissa J Luther

Privacy on the Internet has been in the news lately, as various social media platforms struggle with how to encourage more sharing while still protecting users’ privacy. From Google Buzz’s early missteps in making everything, including your email list, public by default to the hoopla over similar efforts by Facebook to make everyone’s activities public, the Internet doesn’t seem compatible with privacy these days.

One online activity that most people don’t think much about, yet which provides an amazing amount of data for online advertisers and Webmasters, is surfing. Nearly every website you visit these days collects data for its owner to evaluate how it is performing.

Many companies provide software solutions to collect this data, but Google’s Analytics service is probably the best known. Webmasters place a small bit of code on each page of their sites, and Google collects and stores the data. The Webmasters get a snapshot of the activity on their own sites, and Google can use the aggregated information from all the sites containing its code to evaluate overall Internet activity and potentially improve its products.

What is the Google Analytics Opt-out Browser Add-on?

In late May, Google released a browser plug-in, currently in beta mode, that blocks Google Analytics from collecting data about the online activities of people who have installed it. The plug-in works for Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome.

It does not block Google’s DoubleClick advertising cookie or other analytics programs.

How Will Google Analytics Opt-out Affect Webmasters?

If a large percentage of Web surfers install the opt-out add-on, Google’s analytics data will become less reliable, but it’s too early to tell how many people will actually bother with it. In fact, if Google’s other tools for controlling online data are any indication, most people care more about having the option available, rather than actually using it.

Referring to its Ads Preferences Manager, Google says, “We’ve seen that of the tens of thousands of people who visit the site every week . . . only 1 person out of 15 opts out. . . .” If the response to the Analytics opt-out plug-in is similar, about 6 percent of your visitors will become invisible, which shouldn’t affect much other than your total traffic numbers, which aren’t particularly useful anyway.

Surfers Already Blocking Analytics Programs

At any rate, you haven’t been getting 100 percent accurate numbers for years. Technologically savvy Internet users already block script-based analytics data using the NoScript plug-in for Firefox, which prevents JavaScript and other plug-ins from running. In addition, users can disable JavaScript right in their browsers.

The people who want their privacy have already taken protective measures. Most of the rest of Internet users don’t care enough about being tracked anonymously to install yet another plug-in, so Google’s new privacy tool isn’t likely to make much of an impact. Besides, the best way to use most analytics data is to look at trends, which shouldn’t be skewed appreciably just because some percentage of your Web visitors are now invisible.

About the Author

Melissa J Luther, owner and founder of LookSee Information Solutions, LLC, helps small businesses create and maintain a strong online presence. She takes a multi-channel approach, with a well-optimized website as the center of an online presence that includes content creation, PPC advertising, linking and social media as appropriate.

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