Top GDPR-Compliant Analytics Tools: Safeguarding User Privacy in 2023
Learn about the complexities of using Google Analytics 4 in accordance with the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Explore the compliance issues, and steps to make GA4 GDPR compliant, and discover privacy-friendly alternatives that provide powerful website analytics while respecting user privacy and data protection laws.
In this article, we will delve into:
- Is Google Analytics GDPR compliant?
- How to make GA4 GDPR compliant
- Privacy-friendly GA4 alternatives
Is Google Analytics GDPR Compliant?
Google Analytics is neutral; it is neither compliant nor non-compliant with the GDPR. Its compliance is determined by how you use it.
Google Analytics provides an analytics tool to track visitors on your website and gain insights on their usage patterns. However, it also uses the same personal data to fuel Google's advertising and remarketing tools. Moreover, it transfers personal data to the United States for processing without sufficient safeguards required by the GDPR.
Several data protection agencies in the European Union, including the French CNIL and the Austrian Data Protection Authority, have deemed the personal data transfers of EU citizens to the US by Google as violating the GDPR. The DPAs of Italy, Denmark, Finland, and Norway have followed suit.
However, the new EU-US Data Privacy Framework made transfers legal again, so this is a thing of the past. Using GA4 in compliance with the GDPR now is all about obtaining consent, using the data only for the intended purposes, and limiting the data retention periods.
On its support pages, Google states that it assists website owners in complying with the GDPR by enabling them to:
- Anonymize IP addresses
- Disable data collection on certain web pages
- Determine data retention periods
- Delete data upon deletion request
There are some important notes to make here:
- Anonymization of IP addresses is enabled in Universal Analytics and is embedded into Google Analytics 4. By anonymizing IP addresses, website owners limit the processing of personal data.
- IP addresses are not the only personally identifiable information that Google processes to provide website traffic analytics. Although the company claims that GA4 is improved in terms of data privacy, improves data ownership, and uses a cookieless measurement of page views, its processing terms mention that the tools also process other categories of personal data such as “online identifiers, including cookie identifiers, internet protocol addresses, and device identifiers; client identifiers”. So, even if you anonymize IP addresses, your GA4 still processes personal information. It means that in Europe you need to serve users with a cookie banner to collect cookie consent for analytics purposes.
- Google does not address international data transfers to the United States at all.
You are the data controller and it is up to you to ensure that you use Google Analytics in compliance with the GDPR.
How to Make Google Analytics 4 GDPR Compliant?
You cannot make Google Analytics GDPR compliant, but you can use it in compliance with the GDPR.
To achieve that, you need to:
- Use the data only for analytics purposes. If you want to use the same data in conjunction with other Google tools, such as Google Ads, you need to obtain specific consent for marketing purposes. So, for using the same tool, you may need to obtain one consent for analytics purposes and one for marketing purposes. In practice it shall look like this:
- The user gives no consent at all. This means that you cannot use GA4 cookies.
- The user gives consent only for analytics purposes. You can send the analytics cookies, but you must keep the marketing cookies at bay.
- The user gives consent only for marketing purposes. This time you can use only the marketing cookies.
- The user gives consent to all cookies. Now you can use both the GA4 cookies for website analytics and the Google Ads cookies.
- Limit the data retention periods. You can store GA4 data as long as it is needed. After that, you shall delete it. You must not keep it forever.
If this sounds like too much work and reliance on users’ actions, such as giving consent, have a look and GA4 alternatives.
What Are Google Analytics Alternatives for GDPR Compliance?
There are many Google Analytics alternatives for GDPR compliance. These alternatives are privacy-friendly, engage in cookieless website analytics, are based in Europe or in adequate countries, and do not store user data.
Here are a few of them:
Fathom Analytics is a simple, privacy-focused website analytics tool. It provides website owners with essential information, like the number of page views and unique visitors, without collecting or storing personal data on the visitors.
The company is based in Canada, an adequate country, and uses servers in Canada and Europe. As Fathom doesn't store personal data, the location of the analytics data is not critical. However, it's important to note that Fathom has taken steps to ensure its data handling processes are secure.
Matomo, formerly known as Piwik, is an open-source web analytics platform. It provides detailed reports on your website's traffic, conversion rates, and more.
Being open-source, Matomo can be self-hosted, giving website owners full control over the data that Matomo collects. It also allows you to store your analytics data on your own servers.
Aside from the web analytics tool, Matomo provides several other privacy-focused tools. However, implementing these tools requires a bit of technical knowledge. It may not be as simple for a portfolio website, an e-commerce store, or a simple content website.
Piwik PRO, a Dutch website analytics company, can provide you with a powerful free version and a great privacy-friendly alternative to GA4.
It uses the same open-source software as Matomo.
Piwik PRO tracks user behavior without infringing user privacy through its tag manager. Other features include API integrations, a WordPress plugin, and very detailed metrics.
Its pricing is also attractive since the basic version is free. However, the basic version is not basic at all. It is quite powerful for a free one.
Simple Analytics is another website analytics tool that provides you with analytics metrics without the need to obtain user consent. It is based in the United States, but given that it does not collect any personal information, you don’t need to concern yourself with data transfers across the Atlantic.
Among other features, Simple Analytics has a powerful event-tracking tool.
Plausible Analytics' real-time functionality resembles that of GA4, yet it doesn’t process PII, so it easily complies with the GDPR, PECR, CCPA, and other privacy laws.
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