Is user data truly protected in the Google Analytics universe?

30 second summary:

  • Fair data collection is when people are willing to share segments of their digital self without revealing the whole picture
  • Google’s data empire seems to backfire on its presence in Europe as Italy joined France and Austria in decreeing that Google Analytics is crossing borders
  • The whispers quickly turned into screams as the Italian Data Protection Authority (DPA) found that Google wasn’t actually doing enough to mask these IP addresses, meaning users could be easily identified.
  • What impact will this have on the SEO industry and more countries will join this revolt?

Think of your online data as pieces of a puzzle. All assembled, these make a crystal clear picture of you: your IP address, interests, name and so on. Watch one or two pieces at a time, though, and you can’t get much out of it.

This is what is considered fair data collection. You are willing to share segments of yourself, but not the whole picture.

The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is partly about making sure companies like Google don’t get enough individual pieces to see you all. This is also why their Analytics service is getting bad press at the moment, particularly in Europe.

The service is used to track both quantitative and qualitative information about people on a website, such as how many active users there are and what their gender might be. Financial information such as revenue or advertising ROI is also available if relevant to your website. In terms of user data, there isn’t enough to identify someone specifically, but there is enough to help companies understand their demographics.

However, Italy recently joined France and Austria in decreeing that Google Analytics is going beyond the boundaries of “fair collection” and violating the rules of the GDPR.

While Google anonymizes data to some extent, there have always been whispers that users’ IP addresses were easily accessible. These whispers quickly became screams when the Italian Data Protection Authority (DPA) found that Google wasn’t actually doing enough to mask these IP addresses, meaning users could be easily identified.

At this point, the empire of technology they have built is almost working against the research giant. When they collect so much data, those pieces of the puzzle start to pile up quickly and when they have all the tools to put the puzzle together, that’s when countries like Italy have to set foot.

Italy’s argument, and many other regions will soon be, is that Google simply has too much information that isn’t properly masked. This is way beyond typical fingerprints, people walk away while using the internet. Since the data used on Google Analytics must travel through servers on American soil, they also consider this a further violation, citing in particular the Schrems II ruling of 2020.

Many questions still remain. How will this affect the SEO industry in these countries? With GA4 still far enough away, should entrepreneurs have a different solution in place? Which other countries will follow suit: Japan, California or any other EU country?

I’ve partnered with Laura from Ruler Analytics to bring you some tips and facts to help you understand and deal with what’s going on.

Upgrade to GA4, the sooner the better

Google Analytics is set up for change. As of July 2023, Universal Analytics will no longer be available. At this point it is unclear how exactly Google Analytics 4 will look.

But what we do know is that you need to create a GA4 account sooner rather than later.

By configuring it now, you will have the historical data you need to apply new tools and features in the future as well.

Remember, Google Analytics 4 will only offer you data retention for 14 months. Setting up GA4 now and learning how to use the platform will pay dividends in the future and keep you prepared for change.

Even though the death of cookies is in 2024, step away now

Invest in proprietary cookies. As we have seen with iOS 14.5, advertisers like Google and Facebook have a huge impact when it comes to tracking data with third party cookies.

Proprietary cookies are your own cookies that reside on your website. The data you collect and create is yours. And that means that you have unbiased data that cannot be removed at any time.

Data autonomy, while respecting the GDPR rules, is absolutely fundamental for marketers.

Manage the trust of your customers, but also collect the data necessary to create personalized and traceable journeys.

Once a cornerstone of paid advertising, third-party cookies will soon be redundant with platforms like Facebook and Google scrambling to create a still-working replacement for their advertising models.

Stop relying on Google Analytics for more than just web analytics

Google Analytics is a web analytics platform. He’s really good at that too.

What Google Analytics is not, it is a visitor-level revenue analysis tool.

This means that you cannot access data such as:

  • Complete individual customer journeys
  • Accurate marketing source
  • Closed revenue or pipeline generation

But as Google is continually viewed unfavorably from a data protection perspective, it is possible that more countries will object to this.

To prepare for this, you need to sort your data.

See the tools you are currently using and how you can make your tools work smarter for you.

Google Analytics will continue to be a great tool for understanding your website analytics. While it may see stricter restrictions on the data it uses and shares, you should still have access to general website metrics. So when it comes to accurately tracking users from your website and linking them to closed contacts and revenue, you need to look elsewhere.

Marketing attribution is one such tool that can help. It uses proprietary cookies on your website, which means you have total autonomy over your data.


To conclude, the next steps are clear. The way we use data is changing. And more importantly, the way tech giants like Google are regulated on data is also changing.

To anticipate this, first create a Google Analytics 4 account. Next, see what data you are collecting and how you are collecting it. Re-evaluate your data acquisition journey and practices.

If you’re tracking data like lead conversions or want more insight into touchpoint data, you need to reevaluate your marketing technology stack.

Be prepared that you may lose information about website visitor data and start looking for alternatives to ensure that you continue to provide your tools with the data they need.

Matthew Rogers is Head of Campaign Management at Manchester’s leading digital marketplace agency Add people and has over 14 years of marketing experience. You can follow it LinkedIn here. He is also a longtime member of the Click Z collective advisory board.

Laura Caveney is Marketing Manager at Ruler analysis. Laura has over 6 years of experience delivering end-to-end marketing campaigns and discusses the trials and tribulations marketers face day-to-day about her. LinkedIn channel.

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