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Google Analytics' privacy issues
Google Analytics is in a unique position compared to other web analytics services. As part of getting the service at no cost, you give Google the right to use the information collected from the site. As a rule, hosted web analytics providers don't assert any rights over the data they collect from organisations using their services: the rights to that information belong to the service buyer. Obviously, if you collect, store and process the data on your own servers, there aren't any issues about information rights.

Each region of the world tends to have a different legal view of online data privacy and what is or isn't acceptable. As part of the European Union, we are bound by a directive which states that if you use cookies, you have to tell people you use them in "clear and precise information", and you must provide details of how a user can reject the cookie.

With the phenomenal worldwide adoption of Google Analytics, there are many organisations that need to think about data privacy issues, probably for the first time. This isn't because Google's approach to privacy issues is tax. On the contrary, it's very explicit in its privacy policy about how it will and won't use personal data. Also, if you took at the privacy section in Google Analytics' terms of service, it places strict conditions on what website owners can do with the Google Analytics data they collect on their users. It also states that people using the service must post a privacy policy and explain that a cookie is used to collect data.

The issue here is transparency. Understanding how people use products and services ultimately leads to the improvement of those products and services: the whole market research industry works on this basis. However, we increasingly need to demonstrate that we're not abusing this trust. It's not so much about reality here, but perceptions.

Organisations are generally highly sensitive to data- protection issues. They know it makes sense. But with the advent of a widely deployed web analytics system like Google Analytics, where the site owner has granted the service provider rights to user-behaviour data, it also makes sense to tell people that this is what you're doing — and explain the implications in a "clear and precise" way.
Webnetics UK Ltd.

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