Should you move on to Google Analytics 4?

All standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits on July 1st, 2023

Considering the recent decision of some European regulators stating that the use of Google Analytics is illegal, you can legitimately wonder if you should move on from Google Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4. 

Google Analytics 4 vs. Google Analytics Universal 

The interface and data model of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is radically different from Google Analytics Universal (UA). The transition to GA4 will require a new learning curve if you wish to understand your data and analyze it, as well as a new tag configuration for collecting data in the GA4 format. The deadline of July 1st was fixed to encourage you to make the switch as soon as possible. To build up a data history in order to make temporal comparisons from July 1st, we advise you to quickly set up parallel tracking between UA and GA4

Google Analytics & Data privacy

Although GA4 was designed with privacy by design in mind and offers many more consent management options than GUA, the tool does not offer the safeguards required by GDPR, especially regarding the transfer of data to the US (made impossible by the Cloud Act). 

Obviously, since GA4 has been designed with privacy at its core and offers many more consent management options than GUA, the decision of Google to entirely shut down the access to your previously processed data is highly correlated to the multiple sanctions from the CNIL (French National Commission on Informatics and Liberty), the DSB (Austrian data protection authority), etc. However, GA4 hasn’t still been approved by the CNIL as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) compliant. If you collect data from the European Market, the switch to GA4 will not make you GDPR compliant

The Trans-Atlantic Data Privacy Framework 

However, in March 2022, the European Commission and the United States reached an agreement in principle for a Trans-Atlantic Data Privacy Framework. Even if, the technical details of the new framework are still unclear, we can expect data transfer to the USA to be legalized. 

Yet, according to the European Data Protection Board: “At this stage, this announcement does not constitute a legal framework on which data exporters can base their data transfers to the United States. Data exporters must therefore continue taking the actions required to comply with the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, and in particular its Schrems II decision of July 16th, 2020”. 

Also, in Switzerland, the new federal data protection law is planned for September 2023 and will largely be similar to GDPR, especially on the issue of data transfer. This means that GA4 will not be compliant with the Swiss law either. 

Alternatives to Google Analytics

Since the Trans-Atlantic Data Privacy is only an agreement in principle (for now), and as mentioned previously, the switch to GA4 will not make you GDPR compliant, you could take this opportunity to migrate your web analytics infrastructure to a web analytics service whitelisted by the CNIL. Piwik PRO Analytics Suite, Matomo Analytics, Adobe Analytics, the alternatives are numerous. 

Piwik PRO and Matomo for instance could be used if you are looking for a simple business analytics tool that shows you sessions, pageviews, transactions, revenue. But if you are looking for a suite that will help you improve your performance, you should pick a more complete tool such as Adobe Analytics. 

Is it possible to keep Google Analytics? 

If you still decide to use Google Analytics as your primary tracking tool, the time granted by Google to make the switch is also a great opportunity for you to review your web analytics infrastructures. We recommend you move from client side to server-side tracking (moving the data transformation and logic from the browser side to a dedicated and owned tracking server by streamlining the data flow from the client-side to the maximum), in order to: 

  • Respect the privacy of the users 

The Revised Swiss Federal Data Protection Act will also definitively impact your data 

Thanks to server-side tracking, you would be able to perform true anonymization and obfuscation of data (we choose the data that is sent and in the format we want) and therefore are GDPR compliant. 

  • Improve the performance of your tracking 

The increasing number of tags on your web properties can slow down page load time. 

Thanks to server-side tracking, you can greatly decrease the computational load on the browser side since everything is transferred to the server side. You could also perform a consequent enrichment with data coming from outside on website (such as CRM or PIM). 

  • Be less dependent on your 3rd party data 

Browser and Adblocker are restricting 3rd party cookies, which are rendering tags relying on those cookies obsolete. 

As the server is on the same 1st level domain, you can perform first-party operations, which allows you to protect yourself against the ITP protocol and ad-blockers. 

Thanks to server-side tracking, you can gain ownership and complete control of the data you collect and send to vendors.  

Server-side allows you to create server-to-server communications, which open up other possibilities, such as the implementation of the Facebook Conversion API. 

The team behind this project

Florent Purificato - Digital Analytics Consultant

Would you be interested in getting in touch with our Analytics Team to support you in the implementation of these recommendations? Feel free to get in touch and we would be happy to talk to you about this in more detail. 

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