Google Analytics banned in Europe soon? Beware of shortcuts

Will Google Analytics soon be banned in Europe? Google’s Web Analytics platform was launched in 2005, and since then nearly five million businesses have used it to track and report their web traffic. Web sites. Several issues have arisen in Europe, as Google Analytics has been found to inadequately protect the data of European Union citizens and may ultimately be banned there. In addition, online services from the United States have been found to transfer and expose European data to US surveillance, thereby violating the GDPR. However, we must be wary of hasty conclusions.

Google Analytics soon banned in Europe? Let’s not go too fast

Magdalena Pawlitko, Head of Sales at Piwik PRO (in Germanic countries and France) gives us an overview of a potential ban on Google Analytics and its consequences in Europe.

Today’s guest is Magdalena Pawlitko, sales manager at Piwik PRO (DACH & France), a Polish web analytics software publisher. She answered Visionary Marketing’s questions about the emarketing and customer strategy show held in Paris on March 30, 2022.

With her, we thought about the following question: could Google Analytics be banned one day in the whole of Europe? We worked on scenarios to answer this question by conducting our own research and drawing on Magdalena’s subject matter knowledge.

As we will see here, predicting the end of Google Analytics is not as easy as it seems however.

What are the current European threats against Google Analytics?

Google Analytics Ban
Max Schrems – the man behind NOYB – at the Austrian premiere of the documentary film Democracy – photo from Wikimedia Commons

It all started in Austria when the European Center for Digital Rights (NOYB), a non-profit organization based in Vienna, filed a complaint directly against the Austrian medical information company, NetDoktor.

It turned out that the Austrian company, like millions of other companies, used a Google Analytics cookie which, as the American magazine Wired describes, tracks “what pages you read, how long your visit to the website and information about your device. »

Google is also able to assign an identification number to the browser used in order to link the visitor to other browsing data.

Additionally, by using Google Analytics, all data tracked by Google crosses the Atlantic from Europe to the United States.

On December 22, 2021, the Austrian Data Protection Agency (DPA) concluded that the use of Google Analytics violates the GDPR. TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas further states that the “IP anonymization feature was not properly implemented.”

As our readers already know, the IP address is personal information that can be combined with other data to precisely identify the user.

However, this is not unique to NetDoktor since millions of companies in Europe use Google Analytics. But it’s one of the clearest indicators that some European regulators disagree with how US tech companies send and collect data in Europe.

What do other countries think of a ban on Google Analytics?

At present, Austria has been the only European country to declare the use of Google Analytics as illegal. As Magdalena Pawlitko from Piwik PRO says: “Recent regulations in Austria are among the strictest in Europe. »

As for the other European countries concerned, Magdalena Pawlitko says: “European countries are concerned in the same way, but have different points of view on this issue. For example, Austria, the Netherlands, France and Germany are all preparing their response to recent legal interpretations and requirements. To prove Magdalena’s claim, I did some research on these countries.

As previously mentioned about Austria, Matthias Schmidl, the deputy director of Austria’s data regulator, says in Wired, “The transfer of information from Austria to the United States was found to be illegal because that there was no adequate level of protection for the personal data transferred. »

In the Netherlands, the protection authority is currently examining two specific complaints against Google Analytics and has not yet ruled on a possible ban on the use of this platform.

With regard to France, Magdalena Pawlitko adds: “I think that the CNIL (the National Commission for Informatics & Liberties) in France, leads by example, because it indicates to citizens the procedure to follow and the tools which are in conformity with the RGPD. . »

However, the CNIL is only issuing recommendations to website owners using Google Analytics to stop using the platform or find another data tracking tool that complies with the GDPR and does not send data outside of Europe.

Finally, in Germany, questions are examined on a case-by-case basis to determine whether user protection is ensured, and in cases where it is not, “additional measures must be taken to comply with this level of protection”. , as eTracker indicates.

With regard to the European Union (EU) as a whole, it is expected that other European authorities will follow the decisions of data protection authorities, such as Austria and Germany. European data compliance director Simon McGarr in Wired says ‘the Austrian position is probably at one end of a spectrum of opinions – and would probably represent the more radical end’ and that other regulators will approve, modify or reject legal remedies similar to those implemented by Austria.

Other EU regulators will eventually come to their own conclusions as they look at other cases, especially as NOYB is currently preparing another 10,000 complaints.

Finally, if Google Analytics is banned more thoroughly in Europe, it would affect millions of European sites that rely on Google’s platform for data tracking (transparency: including Visionary Marketing because of the link between the referencing of sites by Google and the use of Google console and therefore of Google Analytics) and will affect providers such as Stripe, whose infrastructure is located and operates in the United States.

What could happen in the future?

  1. A first scenario Google Analytics could be banned as a whole in Europe, where no data will be transferred from Europe and across the Atlantic to the United States, but this would not be immediate, because the law must be enforced. As a result, American companies like Facebook, Microsoft and Instagram, or European companies, whose infrastructure is in the United States, like the French health appointment booking company Doctolib, in this case, would not be no longer able to track or collect data on their European consumers, to the point of having to shut down their services.
  2. The scenario 2 would be for US-based tech companies to store and consolidate their data in Europe to ensure they are fully ePrivacy and GDPR compliant. This would ultimately run counter to the CLOUD Act which stipulates that all US service providers must, upon order, provide US authorities with data that is stored on their servers, whether domestically or internationally. As Magdalena Pawlitko confirms: “Any company controlled by the United States or based in the United States is subject to American law, which means that if the United States government asks these companies for data about their visitors, they must disclose it. . This law circumvents those of other countries concerning privacy, such as the GDPR in Europe. Therefore, this scenario is difficult to envision, as the CLOUD Act would need to be terminated, which is not as easy as it sounds.
  3. Another possibility, a third th scenario would like European companies to find alternatives to Google Analytics and ensure that the web analytics program they use complies with GDPR and ePrivacy rules. Unlike the ban on Google Analytics as a whole, asking European businesses to switch to another platform is easier and more immediate to implement. Magdalena Pawlitko logically agrees, given her position, with this scenario, adding: “I think it makes good sense for companies to take a look at the European solutions that can be used to ensure that its visitors’ data is safe and only used for what they have consented to. »
  4. Finally, the fourth scenario is related to the application of the Innovation and Choice Online Act bill on theinnovation and online choice. Thomas Romanoff of Bipartisan Policy Center says the law is “the latest bipartisan effort targeting big tech companies for potential torts related to antitrust violations and the restriction of consumer choice.” If this bill were passed and if this law were subsequently applied, the question would be settled. But that’s a lot of ifs.

The best ban for Google Analytics is the one businesses can enforce with their mice

Overall, it takes time for regulations to change and for laws to be adopted and enforced globally.

Failing that, companies can start working to find other ways to keep track of consumer data in a way that is secure and compliant with privacy laws.

So there is no need to ban Google Analytics or other US-based web analytics platforms in Europe.

European companies would therefore only have to use local analytics platforms to ensure the security of their visitors’ data. Rather than waiting for laws to be enforced, companies should therefore start working in a ethics and find alternatives that comply with ePrivacy and GDPR laws.

Even if it means taking the risk of being dereferenced by Google, and this is a big risk, which perhaps one day will disappear under the blows of the Innovation and Choice Online Act bill.

You will find our full interview with Magdalena in our podcast.

Recommended article on a similar topic: Scenarios for the future of the Internet

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