European, U.S. media are cautious about Google Analytics strategy

By Ariane Bernard

INMA

New York, Paris

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You’re a publisher, and the headlines about the incompatibilty of Google Analytics and GDPR have you worried. Or maybe your head of legal would like “a chat” about Google Analytics. I was asking a few publishers recently — on both sides of the Atlantic — about how they were handling both the recent news and how this was affecting their long-term strategy.  

For a premium British publisher with a worldwide readership: “It’s on our radar for sure.” Their original assessment was that they were safe. Still, this publisher notes, “it’s a flag and we need to dig deeper in general in how we approach these issues from a regional perspective, not just the EU.”

Said a top U.S. publisher, this has only solidified their drive to continue to build their own tools. But they do rely on Google Analytics and remain cautious. 

Media publishers on both sides of the pond are concerned about Google's next steps.
Media publishers on both sides of the pond are concerned about Google's next steps.

Still, no one is jumping ships on this one. Because there is another angle to all this — which is the technology itself. 

Concurrently to all of this, Google may also take the bull by the horns here and figure out some ways to keep all European Union data in Europe. There are also possible approaches where some level of encryption keys that would be held only by the publisher may be making some of the issues moot, though not everything can be encrypted within an application so this is not a panacea.

As the British publisher noted, “We can make a whole bunch of changes, but it’s likely Google will make changes and shore things up faster than we can make our own changes. And then what’s the point?”

And that’s actually where I would make my biggest bet (a drink at the bar): There is just too much riding on a good solution being designed for one not to be found. 

Google built self-driving cars, and data transfer seems like a significantly easier issue. Not an easy issue, but an easier issue. Do I think Google can figure out some way to build a privacy-first Google Analytics? I absolutely do. This may require a significant rehaul of how GA is engineered (Google, if you’re reading this, I am writing this from the peanut gallery — I have no idea how you’d do this). All of this is about economics and incentives. There is enough size and value to Google to solve this market issue, even at a large cost. Europe is a large market, and enough countries are in the process of adopting their own flavour of data privacy laws that digging into this problem is worth it. 

The biggest reason I’d put my drink bet on this isn’t even because of the market size argument. It’s that bad press has a cost, too, and that cost reflects on all of Google’s products and image — not just Google Analytics. 

Right now, the approaches proposed by Google require a significant amount of expertise and gotchas on the part of a publisher to know just how to configure their Google Analytics install to be in compliance. This is partly why cases are being successfully brought by activists. The other reason is the lack of a legislative framework to afford more flexibility.

The confusion caused by these headlines, the headaches for data protection officers, and the general complexity for analytics and data engineering teams is not a sustainable place to be for Google — certainly from a public relations perspective.

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About Ariane Bernard

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