German Government May Fine Businesses for Using Google Analytics

by Sourav Sharma on March 4, 2011

How much do you rely on web analytics? Probably a great deal, and with good reason. It’s incredibly hard to get ahead online without looking at analytics and using that information to your advantage. Many of you probably use Google Analytics for this, but what if the government threatened to fine you for doing so? 

That is what appears to be happening in Germany. German authorities are warning companies in that country that they could face legal action and/or fines if they use Google Analytics, claiming the tool violates people’s privacy. According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, Germany has broken off talks with Google over the matter, which apparently comes as a surprise to Google itself. 

"Google says it wasn’t aware that discussions with German officials had ended, and that it was actively working to address their concerns," reports Christopher Lawton. 

Google Analytics - Violation of Privacy?A Google spokesperson is quoted as saying, "Google Analytics complies with European data protection laws and is used by other European data protection authorities on their own websites."

Google had previously agreed to provide webmasters with a way to anonymize IP addresses and an opt-out option for web browsers, but the option isn’t available for all browsers, and this was not enough for the German authorities. 

Google has a history of privacy-related hurdles in Germany, much of it stemming from Google Maps Street View. In fact, after years of struggle, Google only debuted Street View in the country a couple months ago, albeit a limited version. Prior to that, hundreds of thousands of Germans had already opted out of it

Of course Google is no stranger to privacy concerns anywhere else in the world either, including here in the U.S. Consumer Watchdog has famously made animated videos portraying the company as a predator to privacy, and calling for a "do not track" list for the web, similar to the "do not call" list. 

Google is hardly the only company tracking online users and certainly not the only provider of web analytics solutions, but the stature, size, and dominance of Google as a web company must only work against it in situations like the one in Germany. 

Google states that Google Analytics collects information anonymously, and reports website trends without identifying individual visitors. Furthermore, all website owners using Google Analytics are required to have a privacy policy that fully discloses the use of Google Analytics.

"Google Analytics does not report the actual IP address information to Google Analytics customers," Google says in its privacy policy for Google Analytics. "Additionally, using a method known as IP masking, website owners that use Google Analytics have the option to tell Google Analytics to only use a portion of the IP address, rather than the entire IP address, for geolocation. Whether or not website owners use Google Analytics, they have access to IP addresses for visitors to their sites."

"Personal information is information that personally identifies you, such as your name, email address or billing information, or other data which can be reasonably linked to such information," the policy adds. "The Google Analytics Terms of Service, which all Analytics customers must adhere to, prohibits the tracking or collection of this information using Google Analytics or associating personal information with web analytics information."

Google’s Analytics opt-out web browser add-on communicates with Google Analytics to indicate that info about the site should not be sent to Google Analytics. It’s only available for IE, Chrome, and Firefox.

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