Worried About Google Analytics Opt-Out? Nah (At Least Not Yet)

On March 18, there was a brief announcement on the Google Analytics Blog giving a “head’s up” on Google’s plan to release a browser plug-in that will allow web users to opt-out of Google Analytics tracking.  Naturally, this sparked some vigorous commentary, with opinions ranging from ‘disaster‘ to ‘non-issue’.  (Haven’t actually seen anybody – at least any internet marketers – suggesting it might be a GOOD thing.) Eric Peterson had probably the most complete coverage of the issue, with some astute observations regarding Google’s privacy motives being tied to their interest in collecting data from US federal government sites.

My own inclination is to side with those that believe this will have little impact on web measurement for those employing Google Analytics on their sites, for the following reasons:

1. Low Usage: The opportunity opt-in or opt-out is largely ignored by humans, who tend to go with the default, as Dan Ariely has so convincingly pointed out in recent years.  If it works that way for organ donation, we can be pretty confident that is how people will respond to analytics tracking.  Especially since Google Analytics is already set up to not collect personally identifiable information.

2. Existing Limitations: Web analytics data is already fraught with limitations caused by use of cookies, javascript, and half-baked implementation.  These will likely continue to add up to more impact than any opt-out system.

3. Trends: Even if there was some initial adjustment as masses of users opted-out, there would still be enough data for most sites to establish valid trends moving forward. And data trends are arguably more valuable in web analytics than raw numbers.

4. Strategic Interest: Google has a strong interest in encouraging widespread usage of Google Analytics and has made huge efforts in the past to make this tool as attractive as possible to as many site owners as possible. Unlikely they are going to put all that marketshare at risk.

So this is definitely something we want to keep an eye on in order to determine the implications as details are revealed and the program actually rolls out.  We’ll watch, but we’re not worrying – at least not yet.

After all, as Mark Twain said: “Worrying is like paying interest on a debt you don’t owe.”