Google, all I want for Christmas is...

Posted by: 

Bill Bruno, President

Well, I already have my two front teeth, and barring any unforeseen injury I plan on not needing new ones any time soon.  I'm also not talking about SSL Search, despite the amount of uproar we've witnessed in the industry as a result.  Sure, it sucks to have the ability to collect information about your natural search keywords impacted when users are logged into their Google account, but it's not the end of the world.  Ultimately, I think this argument around SSL Search is missing the real reason people should be upset.

What I really want from Google is an update to the Google Analytics (GA) Terms of Service (TOS).  You can read the full TOS here but what I'm really concerned about is the following clause:

7. PRIVACY . You will not (and will not allow any third party to) use the Service to track or collect personally identifiable information of Internet users, nor will You (or will You allow any third party to) associate any data gathered from Your website(s) (or such third parties' website(s)) with any personally identifying information from any source as part of Your use (or such third parties' use) of the Service. You will have and abide by an appropriate privacy policy and will comply with all applicable laws relating to the collection of information from visitors to Your websites. You must post a privacy policy and that policy must provide notice of your use of a cookie that collects anonymous traffic data.

Taking away organic search information, from a bigger picture standpoint, is removing a set of data that organizations could leverage to dynamically generate content on the web and ultimately use to re-target with a personalized marketing strategy.  In addition, given the above clause in the TOS, implementing GA implies that you will not use the solution to capture ANY personally identifying information (PII).  With data becoming more multi-channel, and my team needing to integrate several datasets to help clients optimize based off of a more complete view, the above TOS is a huge limiter to what we can do with GA.  The industry needs to be able to track this information, as that is the sole reason we collect data in the first place.  We are trying to learn as much as possible about individuals and personas so that we can optimize our approach and have a mutually beneficial relationship with our customers.

Sure, I'm aware that Google has yet to enforce this TOS, and I'm also aware that many organizations have ignored this language as well, but given that privacy is a major problem facing the industry today, who's to say that Google won't start enforcing?  We are constantly forced to remind our clients what the Google TOS is, and if you're building a mature analytics program, can you take the risk of having your account shut down?  Probably not, if GA is your primary tool, which is why I want Google to update their TOS as a gift for us this holiday season.

What I find interesting is that I'm not really asking Google to do anything other than update their language.  I just want them to simply state that collecting PII falls on the onus of the organization doing so and that they are required to update their privacy policies and adhere to any legislation put in place globally.  What makes it even more interesting is the design of the standard eCommerce tracking code for GA:

 

  var _gaq = _gaq || [];

  _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-XXXXX-X']);

  _gaq.push(['_trackPageview']);

  _gaq.push(['_addTrans',

    '1234',           // order ID - required

    'Acme Clothing',  // affiliation or store name

    '11.99',          // total - required

    '1.29',           // tax

    '5',              // shipping

    'San Jose',       // city

    'California',     // state or province

    'USA'             // country

  ])

 

The above is pulled from the tracking code and you'll notice in bold that the order ID is required for the tracking to function.  From where I'm standing, an order ID can be tied back to a person and as such could be considered PII.  As a result, I don't think I'm asking for much.  

I understand that privacy is a major problem facing the industry today, but until GA allows for the storing of PII it will continue to be behind the other vendors regardless of all the cool features and functionality they continue to release.  If Google Analytics truly wants to be an "enterprise" solution, that would require it to be the primary solution, and I struggle with how that's possible until organizations can safely collect PII and not have to worry about what Google might enforce or take away.  It's bad enough that we need to worry about the legislation surrounding us today.