Data protection authorities in Italy recently decided to follow their counterparts in France, the Netherlands and Austria by banning Google Analytics (GA) because of concerns about GDPR compliance and “protection of users’ personal data”.
The implications of such a widely used tool being ‘shut-off’ overnight are clearly very significant and, even if these decisions aren’t mirrored in the UK, they present a timely wake-up call to any organisation taking its analytics setup for granted.
The issue at hand
At the heart of these legal challenges is the issue of GA transferring user data – such as IP addresses, browser information, and language selection – from the EU to Google offices in the USA. European regulators determined the data was being transferred without “an adequate level of protection” and also cited concerns about “US-based governmental and intelligence agencies” accessing EU users’ personal data.
As such, and with little warning, organisations in these countries have had their ability to surface valuable insights severely disrupted, as the tool that underpins so many data-led digital marketing strategies was effectively unplugged, with no immediate solution in sight.
It has been suggested that other EU nations could pass similar legislation and, even when a legal compromise is reached, it’s likely that GA functionality will have to be narrowed significantly to meet regulatory standards. For instance, France’s data protection authority (CNIL), has suggested Google applies “additional encryption” and the use of a “proxy server to avoid direct contact between the user’s terminal and Google’s servers”. Even if Google seriously considers implementing these additional protections, it could be months before functionality is restored.
A range of impacts
Putting aside the ethical implications, one thing is clear: these legal challenges will have an enormous impact on marketing functions that have come to rely on GA. If they don’t already have a workable contingency in place, companies could face sourcing, implementing, and learning an alternative solution – all while running against the clock.
That’s not an ideal situation for any marketing department but it could become a major obstacle for companies that haven’t recently evaluated their analytics requirements, tools, and objectives. Because without a detailed understanding of your existing setup, it’s going to be extremely difficult to get the next steps right.
Whether UK lawmakers follow suit or not, data-led marketing teams in the UK face a range of other potential disruptions in the coming months. For instance, the mandatory migration from UA to GA4, the transition to a cookieless internet, and the ever-increasing challenge of recruiting and retaining experienced data professionals.
Finding the right solution
Analytics plays an increasingly central role in business and marketing strategies so, when disruptions like these arise, a temporary reduction in your ability to surface critical insights is likely to have an impact on wider, strategic objectives.
In most cases, it won’t be as dramatic as a multinational ban on Google Analytics, but even a relatively small issue (such as a key member of staff leaving during an important change programme) can become a crisis if you don’t have adequate support in place to bridge the gaps.
At Yard, we provide the additional support and guidance our clients need to anticipate and navigate these challenges. If you’re interested in hearing more about how we can help, or discussing any of the issues mentioned above, please feel free to put some time in my diary.