Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Google Analytics Data Sharing

Google Analytics has an option to allow you to share your analytics data with Google in return for services like Google Benchmarking and enhanced ad features that will be released in future. Google provides following two options for data sharing.
  1. With Google products only

    What do you get with this option? Enable enhanced ad features and an improved experience with AdWords, AdSense and other Google products by sharing your website's Google Analytics data with other Google services. Only Google services (no third parties) will be able to access your data.

  2. Anonymously with Google products and the benchmarking service

    What do you get with this option? Enable benchmarking within Google Analytics by sharing your website data in an anonymous form. Google will remove all identifiable information about your website, combine the data with hundreds of other anonymous sites in comparable industries and report aggregate trends in the benchmarking service. Google will also use this data in anonymous form to improve our products and services.





Since companies are concerned about their data, the first question that most of them are asking is “Should we share data with Google and how will the data be used?”
In this post I will provide my views on Google Analytics data sharing service. Please note that I am not associated with Google or any Google entity and have not worked with them in any capacity. These are my views only, based on my past experience with Analytics , Online Adverting and Behavioral Targeting companies and services.

So what do I think?

As I had written in past, Google will be entering the Behavioral Targeting space. For it to realize full power of Behavioral Targeting it will need to aggregate the data it collects from sites across the web via its various services such as Google Toolbar, Adsense, Adwords, Google Analytics, YouTube, Google Checkout, Google Optimizer etc. Since there is so much concern about privacy and data usage by Companies like Google, it will create a lot of problem for Google if they just start aggregating all this data. To make sure Google is easing these concerns about how Google can use the data it collects from its services, in particular data from its business oriented services such Google Analytics, Adword etc , it has to seek permission from the site owners (and visitors).
Google is starting this with Google Analytics. It is asking your permission to allow them to aggregate your Google Analytics data in return for some free services such as Benchmarking and others services yet to come.

Option 1

Let’s start with Option 1 “With Google products only”. The description of this option can be interpreted in the following two ways

  1. If you chose this option your Analytics data will be shared by other Google services that you use. This data will only be used to enhance Google products, Adwords, Adsense etc. used by you using your Google Analytics data. So they are asking you to opt-in into tighter integration of these products (sort of like Omniture genesis). Your data will not be shared with any other company or used to enhance Adwords or Adsense for any other company.


  2. Or it could also mean

  3. Your data will be used at an aggregated level to enhance Adwords, Adsense or other Google products to help Google. This is along the lines of Behavioral Targeting. Say you operate an online golf store. You have some buyer who frequently come and buy products from you. Google knows a lot about those users (e.g. they buy golf balls on regular basis and hence are avid golfers). When these users goes on another sites that serves Adsense ads, Google can serve ads about Golf balls or other Golf products even though that site might have nothing to do with Golf, but it knows that these visitors are avid golfers and are more likely to click on golf ads. Now these ads could be yours or of your competitors, you won’t know. Also Google will be able to charge more as they will allow advertisers to reach the right target customers, a great deal for the advertiser and Google. This raises 2 main questions (and maybe a lot more).

    1. Why should you allow Google to use your data to power your competitors’ ads and hence loose customers?

    2. Why should you allow Google to charge more for targeting based on the data that was collected on your site? Shouldn’t you get a piece of it?



Option 2

“Anonymously with Google products and the benchmarking service” has the following two components

  1. Benchmarking: Most of the companies want to benchmark and see how they are doing compared to other companies in their vertical, size etc. This sort of data is usually available from companies like Nielsen Net Ratings, Comscore, Hitwise, Compete for a fee. Realizing the needs of consumers Google Analytics is providing this service as an option in Google Analytics. The data is anonymous and aggregated so I don’t have a problem with letting them use my data and provide me free benchmarking data. (Note: I had talked about them entering this space in my blog post, on April 13 , 2007 ( “Google and Behavioral Targeting” , way before they released the data sharing services).


  2. Google Products: Even tough Google is saying that it will make the data “anonymous”, what it really is saying is that it will remove information about your site from the data (the site where data is collected). In nutshell, I think this still refers to the same type of data sharing as mentioned in point number 2 of Option 1 (above) so I have same concerns as I already mentioned.


So what should you do?

It depends on your situation.

Option Number 1: If it is really to help you better your ads and optimize your site and conversion then you should opt-in. At this time it is not clear. I would say opt-in for a less strategic site (if you have multiple) and see how it works then you can always opt-out if it is not what you expect. I will of course blog about it in future on how they actually use the data.

Option Number 2: For now, in my opinion, you are ok with sharing your data to use Benchmarking services. You can always opt-out later when Google starts to use this data to power Adwords and Adsense.

User Privacy

Even though Google is making the data anonymous it is only referring to privacy of the site not of the individual visitors. It is up for debate who owns the data, the visitor, the website where data is collected or third party tool like Google Analytics. They are asking your (site owners) permission by asking you to opt-in to data sharing. To ensure Google covers all it bases when (note I did not say IF) they decide to behavioral targeting based on all the data collected they will seek to get user permission too (or I think they should).

Privacy policies are different in different countries so you should comply with local privacy policies before allowing Google to aggregate data collected on your site. It is always a good idea to clearly mention in your sites’ privacy policy how you are allowing 3rd parties to anonymously collect and aggregate the data for Benchmarking and other marketing services.

Comments? Questions?