March 29th, 2022

Google Analytics violates the GDPR

Which alternative is really up to the job?

Google Analytics is the most widely used statistics program among website operators, who can use it to evaluate the usage behavior of their site visitors. Why is the tool so popular? The user-friendly interface can be operated easily and almost intuitively to a certain extent - and thus also by laypersons - while at the same time the large scope of functions also provides experienced SEO specialists with a good basis for their work. Either way, the insights gained can - used correctly - profitably optimised websites. The program evaluates the interaction of users with website or app content and makes visible what is well received and what is not. Thanks to the machine learning algorithms, it is possible to predict which users are likely to make a conversion or are particularly strong buyers. So far so good.

The problem: The use of Google Analytics on websites in the EU violates the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), as the user data is transmitted to Google's corporate headquarters in the USA. This was already announced by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2020 in its "Schrems II" ruling, in which it stated that a transfer to US providers covered by FISA 702 and EO 12.333 violates the export prohibitions for data in the GDPR. 

With this ruling, the ECJ clarified that personal data of EU citizens may only be transferred to third countries if they enjoy substantially equivalent protection in that third country as in the European Union. For the U.S., it denied such an adequate level of protection.

101 complaints filed

Although there are alternative statistics tools that are hosted in Europe or can be self-hosted, many website operators rely on Google or other U.S. services, some of which even allow access by U.S. intelligence agencies. The fact that many companies are ignoring the European Court of Justice ruling has been highlighted by lawyer and activist Max Schrems, together with Noyb, the data protection association he founded.

Noyb filed a total of 101 model complaints in almost all EU member states in August 2020. The complaints are directed against European companies in all 30 EU and EEA member states that - a search for corresponding codes revealed - continue to forward data about website visitors to Facebook and Google even after the ECJ ruling was published. Moreover, the complaints are also directed against Google and Facebook in the US for continuing to accept this data in violation of the GDPR.

The first to respond was the Austrian Data Protection Authority (DPA) to a complaint against an Austrian publisher that integrated Google Analytics. It takes the view that the general principles of data transfer under Article 44 of the GDPR are being violated with the transfer of personal user information to Google's corporate headquarters in the USA. 

The fact that authorities could now gradually declare U.S. services illegal increases the pressure on EU companies and U.S. providers to focus on secure and legal options. Here, processing without de facto access by US companies is particularly important. We present one possible alternative here.

Matomo - a popular alternative to Google Analytics

Matomo, known as Piwik until 2018, is one of the most important web analytics tools. It is based on the PHP programming language and uses a MySQL database as its database. The biggest advantage of Matomo: it can be self-hosted and does not run on a third-party server in one of the many data centers in the US. This means that you retain complete control over the tracking data. This is not only good for the trust of the users, whose privacy is protected, but above all also DSGVO-compliant. This makes Matomo an attractive alternative to Google Analytics. Furthermore, the tool for measuring website traffic is particularly user-friendly and easy to use with a little practice. It also impresses with its high data quality, which enables meaningful and very precise analyses of user behavior. And unlike Google Analytics, Matomo does not limit the number of websites per account, which makes the application interesting even for companies with large sites.

The advantages at a glance

  • Matomo shines with a clear and tidy interface: it is not difficult to use, and it also offers useful features such as the freely configurable dashboard or the real-time visitor log.

  • Matomo is rarely blocked by AdBlockers: This leads to better, more realistic data quality in the reportings.

  • Matomo offers complete control over tracking data: The system can be installed on your own server and all tracking requests can be sent there. This ensures that the collected data is not used by third parties.

  • Matomo can be used without cookies if necessary: Although some analysis options are lost, in terms of user acceptance and data protection this can have a positive effect.

  • Matomo can be used free of charge: The free version is particularly suitable for testing. However, to exploit the full potential, it may be advisable to use paid plugins and services.

Conclusion

Matomo proves: Bigger and better known is not automatically better. This is shown by the number of advantages mentioned above. Although the market share is far below that of Google Analytics, Matomo can still keep up with the monopolist. Especially in terms of compliance with EU data protection regulations, which provides users with greater legal certainty, it is worth taking a look at this web analytics service.

Especially for companies that are legally obligated to data protection, and are thus exposed to a high risk of warnings, DSGVO compliance is an important aspect. Either way, however, the following applies: customer data is sacred and its protection should be the top priority for every website operator.

Important to know: Hosting on your own server also means that you have to take care of the security of the data collected from site visitors yourself. Also, the initial installation is a bit more complex and may require professional support. We at cierra have gained experience with Matomo in various customer projects and are happy to answer any questions you may have about the tool. You want to know if Matomo is the right solution for you and your website? Contact us and we will find out.


Tagged with: Tech