Is Google Analytics illegal?

Nervousness is rising among Danish companies due to developments in data law. What to do now that Analytics may become illegal in the EU and data rules are tightened further. In a new ruling, the Austrian Data Protection Authority says that Google Analytics does not comply with GDPR rules in the EU. So far, the Danish Data Protection Authority has said that it will read the ruling closely before issuing further guidance. Regardless of the ruling, the importance of lawful and effective data collection does not change. Therefore, we are working on solutions that can not only act as a fallback solution to a possible ruling, but also be seen as a valuable upgrade to current setups.

Server-side GDPR

In this post we'll get around:

  • Is Google Analytics illegal?
  • What is the problem with Google Analytics?
  • How to future-proof your data setup
  • Advantages of Server-side tracking
  • Disadvantages of Server-side tracking
  • Best alternatives to Google Analytics

What is the problem with Google Analytics?

In fact, it is not Google Analytics that is illegal according to the Austrian court. It is the implementation and the way the majority of websites use the tool. Most websites today have Analytics installed via a Javascript. It is activated as a third-party cookie on the customer's device. The problem arises when a customer visits a website where Analytics is installed in this way, as it places a cookie on the customer's device and via the customer's device data is sent directly to the US. This type of tracking is called client-side tracking and is the most common today.

The "illegal" data being sent to the US includes a unique ID that the customer has across all websites as well as. an IP address, if any.

The US does not comply with all provisions of the GDPR legislation and it is therefore not legal to export personal data to the US, according to the court in Austria. The US could solve this problem by aligning its own data law with the EU's GDPR law, but this is unlikely to happen.

Future-proof setup

Server-side tracking ensures that all website data can be collected without the use of third-party cookies. The technology of server-side tracking enables the collection of data that meets the anonymity requirements of the Data Protection Regulation. With server-side tracking, the user's device first sends data to the website's own server, from where the data is forwarded to Analytics. In this way, Google Analytics can be prevented from ever receiving, for example, the user's IP address and unique ID. You have full control over what information is collected from users and what is passed from your server to Google Analytics. Server-side can be set up without cookies and as first-party cookies depending on the needs of the business, but both have in common that it is much more controllable for the business.

Alternatively, you can replace Google Analytics with other analytics software, but we will discuss this in more detail in a future post, where we will share our experiences with this.

Server-side tracking optimizes your current data collection and website experience.

There are many advantages to server-side. It solves problems other than "illegal data collection". It solves Adblockers, shortened cookie lifetime and slow websites.

Increased performance

Server-side tracking is triggered by an http response, unlike client-side tracking which is triggered by a javascript. This means that when a customer visits a website by client-side tracking, all the customer's actions on the page will trigger different javascripts. This slows down the website. Server-side tracking, on the other hand, does not use Javascripts and therefore does not slow down the load speed. This is rewarded by both users and Google.

Become more GDPR-compliant:

Server-side gives you more control over the data your websites receive. You have full control over the data you collect and the data you pass on. This will make your business more GDPR compliant.

Increased cookie lifetime

In addition, the cookie lifetime is also longer for server-side tracking than for client-side tracking, as e.g. Safari's ITP and Firefox ETP only target cookies that are enabled by javascript. This means that you will be able to track your customer's journey for a longer period of time, thus gaining a better understanding of the customer's full journey. Sessions will remain the same, but will then be linked to the same visitor.

An example might be that your website sells real estate. Here, the decision-making process will typically be longer than for a website selling sweets. With server-side, you avoid a lot of "new users" in your analytics, who are in fact not new users, but just visitors who have not been on your site for a while and therefore their cookie has expired.
So if your business wants to better understand the customer journey, this is a great way to do it.

All this ensures that the company is able to collect and access the data needed to make sound data-driven decisions.

What is the downside of server-side tracking?

There are many advantages to server-side tracking, but of course there are also some disadvantages to deal with.

Technical difficulty

The actual setup and monitoring of the server-side is very time consuming. The concept of server-side tracking has actually existed for many years, but has not been used very much as it used to require high technical knowledge in development and was very time consuming and costly. But then something happened in 2020. Google made it possible to set up server-side tracking via Google Tag Manager and Google Cloud. This means that it is now significantly easier to set up and monitor than it was before.

Costs money

You pay for your server-side tracking, as you have to pay to host your server and in addition, the amount of your traffic also has an impact on the price. You pay a minimum price of 120$ and for websites with high traffic and many tags, the price can increase to 200-300$ per month.

Matomo Analytics - The Best Alternative 

Looking for a good alternative to Google Analytics? Our suggestion is Matomo Analytics. Matomo is a popular alternative to Google Analytics (GA). At InboundCPH, we have been implementing and operating Matomo for a number of clients since 2020. Matomo is a New Zealand company, a country with the strictest GDPR requirements and their cloud servers are hosted in the EU. Read more about Matomo here and see how we can help you get started.

Here you can see a complete list of European alternatives to Google Analytics 

If you would like to learn more about server-side tracking or your data collection in general and how it can be improved and optimised, please contact Alexander Kobberø.

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Alexander Kobberø

Head of CRO & Tracking

Se forfatter

Want to hear more?

Need help with Google Ads or wondering if it makes sense for your business to focus on inbound marketing and Google Ads? Contact Peter Halling Hilborg to discuss your project.

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