April 1, 2010 (CAP Newswire) – Google is making headlines again (shocker, right?), this time with news about an upcoming feature that will let Internet users “opt out” of its signature Google Analytics tracking system.

Despite sounding like a feature for online marketers, this option is really designed for the average web user. It’s a way to tell Google that you don’t want it to compile information about your web browsing habits. If you “opt out” of Google Analytics, then Google no longer tracks what you do online. (To an extent … to what extent remains to be seen.) 

Why is Google doing this? The company has been under constant criticism from certain privacy groups that it keeps too much sensitive info on what online consumers do and spend their time. That’s probably the main reason — because, despite being a win for privacy advocates, this may not really be great news for online marketers. And it may not be good news for Google either.  

“Questions are being asked about how wise it is a move for Google Analytics, with some even suggesting that it will bring about its downfall,” writes Antonio Petra at the Mail & Guardian’s Techleader website. “The implication is that this is a gesture of good faith by Google based on the criticism they have received recently about their approach to privacy highlighted with the launch of Google Buzz.”

The opt-out tool isn’t available just yet; and when it does become available, it may not be quite the privacy panacea that Google is claiming it will be. “Right now the analysis on the opt-out tool is a little thin and the sensationalism is rather, well thick,” Antonio adds. “The main fear is that many users will install this tool when it becomes available and simply opt-out of stats and disappear off the tracking radar, and where this is potentially true, the idea that this will actually happen is pretty far-fetched.”

Some are predicting dire consequences for online marketing. “This is great for consumers — but it will be interesting to see what website owners think of it,” writes Garrett Rogers at the ZDNet blog. “Most people looking for statistics are looking for detailed, accurate ones — if some of their users are anonymous, it’s kind of hard to trust your numbers.”

Antonio counters this theory. “As much as I resent seeing visits drop at any stage, Web Analytics is not about tracking the individual or simply monitoring the stats, it’s about identifying trends and actionable data, and developing strategies to act on that data. In fact a lot of the data you see in Analytics is based on a sample, this is most common when you access custom reports.

“This action doesn’t compromise tracking, in fact it expedites it allowing us to view our data from more angles more rapidly.” Antonio goes into much more interesting detail in his article; read it here. Read Rogers’ ZDNet blog entry here, and check out Google’s official announcement here.

There’s another important consideration here: To opt-out, users will have to install a browser plugin. And that’s something a lot of casual Internet users are reluctant to do.


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