Why Block Google Analytics?

in Google Analytics

I can see that many people are entering my site looking for a way to block Google Analytics; however, my article on the subject relates to just blocking your own activity, so it doesn't show up in reports and skew the data. From the keywords I see people using, it appears that there is a demand for something that actually blocks Analytics from every site that is visited. As someone involved in Analytics, I find it confusing why anyone would really care about the issue, so I think there may be a misunderstanding about the technology somewhere. I would be very interested in your comments about the subject if you have a different opinion to me.

The only reason I see why people might want to block Google Analytics relates to privacy concerns; however, as far as I'm aware, there are a lot less issues about this with Analytics than there are with other activities, such as using social networking sites etc. Your IP is stored for geocoding, but this is deleted by Google within 24 hours—much less than the logs on many websites. There are also cookies that are set on your browser, but these only store generic data relating to your activity on the site. There's nothing stored that can actually identify you personally, so there should be no real concern about privacy. In fact, Google's policy on the issue is strictly that no personal data should be transmitted to Analytics at all; moreover, my understanding is that they have tight controls on access to specific account data in place by internal employees.

Although the word “tracking” conjures up certain “Orwellian” images in many peoples minds, the actual reason many website owners use it is simply to learn about their visitors so they can make improvements to provide a better service to them. The idea that grown adults can actually be brainwashed into taking actions that they don't want to, such as making purchases, is really quite insulting to their intelligence. One of the main goals I currently have in using Analytics on this site is simply to determine if the content I'm posting is actually any use to people, instead of just being rubbish! Is there anything wrong with that? If there is then you could try something like Ghostery. Maybe you could also leave a comment as I would love to hear what you think!

Update: There is now an official browser plug-in that you can use to block Google Analytics activity.

Comments

I'm keen to get feedback on my posts, so if you have any questions or comments, then please send me a message and I'll be happy to help.

Phil

Personally I would have a lot less of an issue if google actually informed me that it was monitoring me in the first place. Sneaking around and grabbing data simply is not a cool way to do it.

I note that you state in the article that IP data is only live for 24 hours so you discount it as being an effective identifier. If google didn't use it then they wouldn't take it. I assume after 24 hours they have exhausted the uses of the IP and saying that they then delete it makes people like you think it wasn't used at all. As for the oversight of google employees clearing user data, are they the same employees who accessed every unsecured wireless in the world recently whilst pretending to take pictures of our front doors? Not much oversite there then really is there? Again I would say that if google didn't want/use that data then they would not have taken it in the first place and they DEFINITELY would have deleted it in the intervening 3 years.

Personally I am happy to give you feedback if you just ask. For those that do not I employ tools such as do not track and ghostery.

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Ewan

Hi Phil,

Thanks for the comment. This is an issue that's got more complicated since I wrote this post, so I'll have to research it in more detail before answering.

Regards,

Ewan

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What many people don't know is that a combination of cookies, IP Address, and various social networking 'buttons' can be used to reliably track every thing you do. IP address and cookies combined can tell them exactly what web sites you are accessing, especially if they have Google analytics or another companies analytics on the website. They do this by updating your IP Address which is stored in the cookie and session data of each site each time you visit a site with Google analytics. Social networking 'buttons' are actually embedded websites so they have the full access to your browser just like if you were on their webpage. If you don't believe me, highlight a button right click and hit view source of selection or the equivalent, if it were just an image with a link you would see IMG tags with a url, instead you will see something about EMBED or INNERHTML or OUTERHTML which means they are literally loading another website on the page. Further they can read the web address of the page you are on and pretty much track everything you do logged in or not (due to cookies and IP addresses) as long as there is a social 'button' on a page. Be honest when is the last time you didn't see a page with a social 'button' or Google analytics running? In other words you have to block all of this stuff or they know exactly what you are doing. Its also admitted that the government has a 'relationship' with both Google and Facebook, they claim its 'national security' and won't say what kind of relationship it is, but you can bet they are gathering all kinds of data on you. If you combine what Facebook and Google collect, and cross reference IP addresses and cookies, you can bet they can identify you directly by name, address, and everything else and tie everything you've ever looked at on the internet together. Its scary when you realize what they can actually do. Its even scarier when you realize these people get caught in scandals all the time and basically have no morals...

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Jan

As far as you are aware, "the IP is stored for geocoding" only. Now imagine, they I open a forum about a specific technical application, search at amazon for a certain book, bid at ebay for an article and check my social network account. Then the same IP allows to draw more conclusions than I like to. I'm convinced, that Google uses such information to earn money. And as long as this money is not printed, it must be the money of the scanned users, although it flows indirectly.

Therefore I block Google Analytics whenever I do not want them to draw any conclusions.

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Ewan

Hi Jan,

Firstly, to clarify, people rarely use IPs to collect information about people's browsing behaviour because it's not very reliable for a variety of reasons, but they do set cookies in your browser for the same purpose.

The type of behavioural data that you're talking about is certainly very valuable to marketers, and Google does make money by showing you ads related to sites you've visited in the past, but the point I'm making here is that it's not their Analytics product—or the cookies it sets in your browser—that's involved in this type of advertising: Google Analytics just sets cookies at the website level and the data is only used to analyse your behaviour on the specific site you're browsing; it's other products that are tracking you around the web.

This is a quite complex issue that causes much confusion, even for people with experience in the matter, so I intend to write an article that clarifies the issue.

Regards,

Ewan

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Alex

Hi Ewan, you have a nice blog and you have raised an interesting question. Cyberspace is a term coined by William Gibson in his novel Neuromancer. In this novel cyberspace is entered as disembodied consciousness by joining the network which is the battleground over ownership and access to data, much like today’s internet where Google, Facebook and other players are crunching user data to provide the best sponsored ads.

At the London Conference on Cyberspace last year, Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda emphasized the social benefits of being online. She stressed that it was vital to deal with the 30% of Europeans currently not online. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-15544517

You say you can't see no reason for blocking analytics. I think that a billion dollar corporation with a monopoly in analyzing and controlling all your data in order to give you targeted ads has a dangerous potential. Besides SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, why would you want to sustain and contribute to this billion dollar market and monopoly? Why would you give away what site you visit? Why would you contribute with statistics and help google improve its algorithms? Why would you like to ignore what happens around you?

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Ewan

Hi Alex,

You're asking some important questions that really highlight public confusion about issues surrounding the way Google collects and uses data across it's range of products: Google Analytics is just one of Google's products, and it's one that I feel provides a model for the way data should be collected and used on the Internet—at least in its current form. Your concerns are actually more relevant to what Google does with its other products, and its intention to provide a more unified experience across them.

What worries me is how quiet companies like Google are being regarding these issues, and how there's a possibility that politicians will attempt to leverage more access to all this data that Google's got by threatening to bring in laws that undermine Google's core business. If proper dialog isn't started soon then I fear deals will be done that mean Google can carry on with it's plans, while the worlds governments get more of the data they want. The real losers could end up being small businesses that no longer have enough data to compete due to ineffective laws that dupe the public into believing their concerns have been met, while in fact the opposite is true.

When I get time I'll try and put another post together that explores the issues in more detail.

Regards,

Ewan

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Boss

It is not just that Google analytics registers your usage it actually blocks too many pages on teh web from loading. It is not just a question about havign patience and waiting for the program doing its bit it is simply making it impossoble to gain access to pages. We all need to be in a position to either opt into the scheme or opt out of it> It cannot be right that Google decides which sites we are allowed to watch and which not.

Anybody have some good ideas about how to circumvent this obvious flaw in teh program (their own opt-out BETA program makes no difference whatsoever).

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Ewan

I guess that the opt-out feature is working on the GA server and not stopping the code running so you probably get the same performance issues if you use it. You might want to try something like the Firefox Ad Block plugin or redirecting requests for www.google-analytics.com to the loopback address in your hosts file.

It's interesting how most of the comments on this subject are actually about performance issues and not privacy. The problem is really due to a variety of issues and not just ones from Google. They have actually made improvements to their tracking method this year that makes it less disruptive than most of their competitors. It will just take time for webmasters to implement the new code.

By-the-way - what browser and ISP are you using? They could also be causing this issue.

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Just to echo what schnurzlepurzle said, my browsing experience is constantly slowed down waiting for scripts from google-analytics to load. This has been true for at least a year, but has become quite bad in the past few months, as all google owned sites for me have had frequently high latency and hang ups during the past 3-5 months. I never was a fan of google but have used them because they provided the best service in some cases, if any of their services stop being fast to access I will have no reason to use them. Google-analytics is a particular nuisance because it is so ubiquitous and infests so many non-google sites, so that the latency problem which Google has been unable to deal with (search reveals that many web users have experiencing the same thing) infects my whole browsing experience even when I avoid Google websites.

Google analytics is notoriously inaccurate and Google in general has a bad history of trying to cover-up and obscure bugs and failures in their service, so I think smart web administrators will slowly try to avoid them, especially since more and more smart users are doing what they can to block Google's intrusive and heavy-handed attempts to rule the Internet.

My main concern with google-analytics at this point is that by blocking them it will cause even worse delays or hang-ups in the many pages which seem to require google-analytics scripts to load before they will allow their page content to load.... But I'll probably just block google-analytics in my hosts file (a popular solution) and see how it goes.

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Ewan

I understand your concerns but, as I mentioned to @schnurzelpurz, the problem is with the old version of the tracking code. Since the beginning of this year there has been a new snippet available that uses asynchronous loading and shouldn't interfere with user experience at all because it works in the background. On modern HTML 5 enabled browsers (like Firefox, Chrome and Safari) it uses a feature that makes it download and run completely separately to the rest of the page. This feature isn't currently in use by most other JavaScript code on the web. Once Webmasters have updated their sites then the problem should go away but it will take time and I guess Google should do more to push them into action.

I have seen my browser hang on Google Analytics loading before but I've also seen my browser hang on loading of most site content. I think one reason why people are noticing it is that it's so ubiquitous that it's easy to spot.

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I do not care about privacy reason but I recognized that many sites don't display a long time because they're waiting for the Google scripts to load. If I'm not wrong, the Google code needs to be inserted at the end of the page causing non asynchronous loading (instead of putting it in the -section). This is just bad technique.

Google Analytics is so popular because it's so simple to setup and the website owners are too lazy to run their own server stat tools...

Thanks for the extension!!!

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Ewan

Yes, the old code needed to be placed at the end of the page. However, there is a new version that's been available since the end of last year which can be placed in the head section and will load asynchronously. It will take time before many sites have implemented it but it solves the problem and has the additional benefit of improving data collection in some cases. I will certainly be looking at using a similar technique for my own tracking scripts in the future.

My understanding of Google's policy towards page-load times is that it's an important issue for them. The overall development of the web has important strategic implications for the largest company on it and they want it to be like "flicking through the pages of a magazine". They have built tools to help webmaster's achieve it and recently indicated that it's even a ranking factor for their search engine.

I've been working on some asynchronous JavaScript recently and, from what I have seen, placing scripts in the head section doesn't mean asynchronous loading automatically. Browsers usually load scripts one-by-one and run them on the same thread in order. The techniques that cause asynchronous loading behavior need to be implemented explicitly.

From building tracking tools, I understand that running tracking on your own servers is quite a resource-intensive task. The benefits of doing so needs to be considered and compared to the cost. Google Analytics is free and feature rich so it's quite an attractive alternative. Also, running tracking on you're own server often requires JavaScript tags anyway so won't always improve page-load times.

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