Privacy-focused website analytics
Google Analytics is used on a significant number of websites around the internet, mostly because it’s free and easy to install, and until now hasn’t had many great competitors.
By using Google Analytics, website owners are allowing Google (the largest advertising company on the planet) to track and store information about every website visitor to their website.
According to Google’s website, they collect the following data:
- Details about the computer and browser visiting the site, including hostname, browser type, referrer, and language
- Details about the system visiting the site, including Java and Flash support and screen resolution
- Information about how the visitor spends time on the page, and advertising campaign information
- Advertising information, via a DoubleClick cookie, including IP address storage
The last point is huge because it means that Google doesn’t just track visitors on the site they’re on, but can track visitors across any website on the internet with Google Analytics or Google advertising. This is used to determine things like interest, gender, age, etc. Google then uses this information to sell more ads, and generated more than $40 billion dollars in the first quarter of 2020 alone through targeted advertising.
By using free software like Google Analytics, website owners freely give Google all the data about their website visitors, which can be matched to other website data from other websites, allowing Google’s advertising network to collect a lot of information about each one of us who uses the internet. So essentially, by using Google Analytics, people get free website analytics but trade the personal data from their visitors. It honestly doesn’t feel like a fair or an ethical trade…
Why does Google have free website analytics?
If you aren’t paying for a product, you are the product. That’s why Google Analytics is free, because they make enough money off the data you give them by using their analytics service. So they don’t have to charge money for it. (Note: They do sell an enterprise website analytics tool, but it apparently starts at $150k/year).
It’s the same reason why Google has free browsers, email, maps, etc… so they can become part of the basic infrastructure of the entire internet, which can then be used to collect as much personal data as possible to drive more advertising revenue. You wouldn’t be alone in thinking it’s all a little creepy feeling (like someone is watching you at all times when you browse the web).
Can Google Analytics identify everyone?
Not explicitly, as in it knows your name and address. But Google Analytics (and Google in general) doesn’t need to know who you are, because it creates an identity about you around your interests.
Google Analytics can identify individual users, as it collects and stores the IP address of every visitor. It uses this other browsing/activity information to figure out gender, age, interests, demographics, as well as (and this is the worst part) associates that data with the data from other websites which also have Google Analytics installed. So their “free” software creates profiles of users based which can follow them around the internet to every website with their tracking software installed.
Google isn’t the only offender in this realm, Surveillance Capitalism is real and being done by many of the largest tech companies in the world. And, unless we fight back, lobby governments for better privacy laws, and start to pay for privacy-focused tools that protect our digital privacy and personal data, it could get worse.
Why does digital privacy matter?
You may think that digital privacy doesn’t matter because you have nothing to hide. This is how a lot of law-abiding people feel, who believe they shouldn’t care about digital privacy.
The problem is, that line of reasoning is uninformed and dangerous.
First, our behaviour actually changes if we know we are being watched. We try to be our best selves and lose the ability to explore and connect ideas that could at best be judged by others or at worse be condemned by others. And that last part isn’t just for evil or illegal things, it can be used against those of differing sexual orientations, religious minorities or even just to persecute people who question nefarious government ideals.
Second, digital privacy matters because any data that is collected is data that will possibly be breached or leaked in the future. When personal information about us is collected on the internet, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when it’ll be breached. Wikipedia has a shockingly long list of data breaches that occur almost-daily.
Why is targeted advertising unethical?
Google has a poor track record of handling personal data. From data leaks to tracking across websites to advertising based on content of emails in Gmail, they’ve done and are doing a poor job of protecting our digital rights with their “free” software.
As we mentioned, Google makes the bulk of their revenue from targeted advertising, which is done by following users across multiple sites and around the internet.
We believe that targeted ads should be banned. Google's software is free because this personal targeted data about all of us is so valuable to them and advertisers. Privacy laws like GDPR, CCPA and PECR exist to curb this, but they aren’t enough.
Targeted advertising isn’t evil because you look at a pair of shoes on one site and see an ad for them on another, and then another, and then another. Targeted advertising is bad because it can be used to create behavioural profiles about each of us and then send us ads which can include disinformation, push propaganda and has the potential to break down democracy (if it’s not already doing that). Targeted ads are moulding our views and beliefs, which is dangerously Orwellian stuff.
Why most businesses don’t need bloated analytics
Dystopian privacy-violations aside, most website owners and businesses do not need bloated analytics to help them make data-driven decisions.
In fact, most businesses can move faster and smarter if they have just the data they need, without having to dive into hundreds of reports or pages. Google Analytics is so complex that it takes time to understand, requires training to use properly, or you’ll often have to hire an external expert to get the data most people require.
If it’s a full-time job to use Google Analytics properly, that’s too much work at best or overwhelming at worst, for most folks trying to run their online business. That’s why Fathom is the number one choice for simple website analytics, because we put all the data you need on a single screen. And better yet, Fathom sends out weekly or monthly email reports, so you get the data you need in the place you spend most of your time, your inbox.
Why online cookies require consent
This is why privacy laws require website owners to ask for visitor consent via cookie notices or popups. These annoying notices take up valuable screen space and frustrate users by making them confirm that their data can be collected and stored.
Why are Google Analytics blocked by most browsers and plugins?
People have become frustrated with being followed around the internet. That’s why more and more people are using browsers and plugins that block scripts like Google Analytics. Millions of people use uBlock Origin or browsers like Brave and Firefox.
If a large number of people visit your website with ad blockers, and you have Google Analytics installed, you won’t see any data about them and their visit. This is great for their digital privacy, but it also means, as a Google Analytics user, you get zero data. And it’s hard to make smart business decisions when you’ve got very incomplete and inaccurate data.
Why are analytics a potential liability under GDPR, CCPA and other privacy regulations
You have to provide clear and written details disclosing your use of Google Analytics because it collects so much personal data. And, if you don’t do it correctly, you could be liable under privacy regulations like GDPR, CCPA, PECR and more.
The solution: a privacy-focused alternative to Google Analytics
Fathom Analytics exists because software like Google Analytics is both too complicated and doesn’t respect the digital privacy of website visitors.
How is Fathom privacy-focused?
Fathom Analytics doesn’t track individuals, period. This gets a bit nerdy, but we do this by creating a unique signature for users, which doesn’t store any personal data. No, we do not create some sort of user fingerprint that is tracked alongside all your pageviews, creating a user browsing history. We have actually invested heavily in making it so that we can never see more than one page view per unique hash, making it impossible to create user journeys. No one could ever reverse engineer who a person was from a unique signature on Fathom. It’s the difference between hashing and encryption, encrypted data can be decrypted, whereas hashed data goes one way and can’t be “de”hashed. That’s why Fathom hashes data about our website visitors.
The other thing different about Fathom Analytics and Google Analytics is that we’re a software company, not an advertising company. We charge a fair price to our customers so our business remains profitable and sustainable. No data is ever collected or shared between our customer sites, like Google Analytics does, because we don’t have an advertising network. That data is both anonymously collected and never shared, for any reason, ever.
We are compliant with privacy regulations because we don’t track, log or store any personal data in any way. We don’t need to. The value of Fathom Analytics is that we show our customers their website data as a whole, like top content or top referrers, instead of showing them data per individual user. That makes it useful for business decisions, while respecting digital privacy.
Why Fathom customers don’t need annoying cookie notices
Our software intelligently tracks information about top content, top referrers and more without associating that data to any individual or building profiles about them.
To bypass ad-blockers, Fathom Analytics allows customers to use custom domains to load our tracking script. Customers are able to use a subdomain on their own website, which most ad-blockers do not block (as it’d cause many sites to simply stop working).
If more than 30% of internet users have ad-blocking browsers and plugins, that means 30% of internet users are not tracked in Google Analytics. But it also means that by using custom domains with Fathom, our customers can get a 30% more accurate idea of how their website is being used and who is sending them traffic. Good news though, custom domains are super simple to set-up.
Because the purpose of ad-blockers is to protect the privacy and data of internet users, we don’t feel it’s unethical to bypass them, as Fathom Analytics does not collect or store that data, ever.
Why Fathom backs privacy laws
Fathom’s guiding mission is to make the internet a safer and better place for people. That’s why we not only agree with privacy focused laws, and have made our website analytics GDPR, CCPA and PECR compliant, we also support these laws publicly.
On April 16, 2019, Fathom and several other tech companies who want to make digital privacy a fundamental human right signed an amendment to CCPA to make it even stronger.
This amendment, entitled “Privacy for All Act of 2019” extends CCPA rights even further, allowing customers to opt-out of having their information shared, giving them the ability to sue companies for privacy violations. One of our easiest business decisions was saying “YES” when DuckDuckGo reached out and asked for our support and signature on this.
Try Fathom Analytics, the best privacy-focused website analytics tool
We are a simple, privacy-focused website analytics tool built by a small and independent company. We aren’t backed by big, million dollar venture capital funds, we are fully bootstrapped, 100% founder-owned and profitable. Why is profit important? Because it ensures longevity in the business. It means we’re here for the long run.
Our software makes it easy to learn what you need to make smart decisions from your website analytics, all while being GDPR, CCPA and PECR compliant.
If you have a blog or a website, give us a try with our 7-day free trial.
Join Fathom today and join our current customers who are mostly small businesses valuing privacy. Our customers also include Fortune 500s, pioneers of the Open Web, and governments, who trust our software to provide them with website analytics.