Is Google Analytics Going to be Banned in Europe?

Google Analytics is a free web analytics service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic. It’s an integral part of many marketing campaigns and offers marketers the ability to measure their spending and reach prospects while providing valuable insights into user behaviour on websites.

There has been speculation for some time that Google Analytics may be banned in Europe following the implementation of GDPR, but it has now been clear that regulators might engage in that way. On May 25th 2018, the European Commission approved a proposal to limit personal data collection from users within the EU. This new regulation came into effect on May 25, 2019, and will apply to every company that handles any data from people living in the European Union. This includes also data from EU consumers on Swiss websites and apps by the way, even if Switzerland is not supposed to be bound by GDPR.

Google claims they have taken a proactive approach to this new regulation and implemented several changes to comply with GDPR before its introduction in May next year. So does this mean Google Analytics is going to be banned in Europe? Read on for more information…

What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is a free web analytics service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic. It’s an integral part of many marketing campaigns and offers marketers the ability to measure their spending and reach prospects while providing valuable insights into user behaviour on websites. As such, Google Analytics is only one tool among many others making it a cornerstone software of a large suite of solutions to understand users behaviours, such as Firebase, Google Data Studio, Google Tag Manager…

Why is it banned?

The regulation bans companies from processing personal data collected from the EU unless they provide a legal basis for doing so. The European Commission (EC) has taken this decision in an effort to protect personal data and users’ privacy.

One of the reasons Google Analytics is banned is that it collects information on people’s behaviour on websites and stores that information in the US. As GDPR comes into force, it will no longer be possible for Google to process and use this collected information for any purpose unless they get the consent of every individual who’s tracked or if they have a legitimate interest in making such processing.

Let’s take an example: if you have implemented Google Analytics on your website, by law, an EU consumer who visits your website might be tempted to ask/request all the personal data you have on him. He can ask also to be removed from your database if these data points can link back to him. This is why, the notion of Privacy by Design introduced by GDPR is forcing companies to use data only when needed for a certain purpose (for instance e-commerce and sending the goods hence asking for the address), and asking consent for using that data from that channel. Right now, you see few websites being able to prove that their Google Analytics data point are collected or not, or simply removable as the bridge between data processing with websites and Google isn’t that easy to run.

Now, more complicated is the usage of personal data, aggregated and/or anonymised for research purposes. You will arguments claiming the right to use these data at a large scale and hence making them impossible to pinpoint a single user. Some would claim then that companies might use the data collected (at scale) to change the offering and in fine the customer experience of that one user who gave his personal data in the first place. You will see that in re-targeting tactics with travel tickets being adapted due to variables such as price pressure, time, and more linked to the topic, IP addresses, web search behaviours…

Moreover, As the Privacy Shield was invalidated by the European Court of Justice in June 2021, European data transfers to the United States are no longer compliant with the GDPR. This weakness, already identified for several months, is at the heart of current discussions. Even Google is pressing for a new US/EU agreement to replace the Privacy Shield. The situation is therefore considered alarming by the Alphabet group itself. 

As a reminder, in many European countries, the Google Analytics solution cannot be subject to an exemption from consent. The data is not used exclusively for analysis by the administrators of the sites and applications affected but also shared by Google. 

How to Get Around the Ban in Switzerland?

Google has taken a proactive approach to GDPR and implemented several changes to comply with the new regulation. This means that Google Analytics is not going to be banned in Europe, but it still requires some updates. As mentioned above, Switzerland not being in the EU but serving European customers around its border is subject to these effects.

The revision of the FADP, which should come into force by the end of 2022, mostly follows the GDPR’s directives. This implies that all European decisions following the implementation of the GDPR and the abolition of the Privacy Shield (Schrems II) in July 2020 will certainly be followed by the Federal Data Protection Commissioner. It is probably only a matter of time, as Switzerland has demonstrated in recent years a tendency to follow European directives. 

Conclusion: Google is to big to be banned, but buckle up for more changes

Some people are worried that Google Analytics violates the GDPR because it collects personal data. If you are using Google Analytics, you will need to make sure it is GDPR compliant.

But don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to get around the ban. You can either switch to a different analytics tool or make sure to anonymize your Google Analytics data.

There are different ways of looking at the situation for companies using Google Analytics. 

Wait and see 

The Meta group is entering the debate, hastily threatening to withdraw its services (Facebook and Instagram) in Europe. This puts pressure on the Biden administration to (re)implement a new Privacy Shield. Finally, waiting and seeing is a possible option by letting the authorities take the lead… but this approach has a proven risk as explained above. 

Anticipation 

Changing tools is something to be prepared for. Alternatives do exist, with European, American, or open-source solutions that offer hosting on European soil. Among these, we can mention Abla, Adobe, AT Internet, Eulerian, Matomo, Piwik Pro, Wizaly… 

Another important tool to consider is the TMS (Tag Management System), where the alternative to Google Tag Manager must also be considered. Other alternatives exist, such as Adobe, Commanders Act, Eulerian and Tealium. 

Similarly, the pressure is strong on web tools. It may seem interesting to anticipate similar blockages on Firebase tools (Google solutions dedicated to mobile applications). 

Considering swapping tools and setting up migration milestones, is also a means to show regulators a real willingness to comply with the legislation in the long run. While waiting to see more clearly, it is therefore important to show that anticipations regarding a tool ban are taken into account. 

Worst case scenario 

As with any crisis, planning for the worst-case scenario is part of the consideration. What is the impact of having to stop the Google Analytics service in a few days? Can internal solutions take over some of the analysis? What are the possibilities to implement degraded performance analysis solutions? All these points must be asked and, above all, evaluated so that they can be activated if necessary. 


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