Commentary

Google's Analytics Opt-Out No Privacy Panacea

As expected, Google has launched a new browser add-on that allows users to opt out of its analytics service.

Google says its analytics unit -- which provides services to outside publishers -- will no longer collect a host of information about those publishers' visitors, including their IP addresses, the keywords they used to land on a site, the time spent on a page and the referring URLs.

The search giant touts this new tool as privacy-friendly -- and that's true, but only to a limited extent, given that many outside publishers have access to the same information from their own servers. Still, the add-on could reassure users who don't want Google, specifically, to gather information about them.

But Google has far more pressing privacy issues at the moment. There's the continuing fallout from its launch of Buzz, which initially revealed information about the names of users' email contacts if users activated the feature without changing the defaults.

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Then there was Google's recent admission that its Street View cars collected payload data from WiFi networks -- an admission that sparked the Electronic Privacy Information Center to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and at least three lawsuits to date.

Casting a shadow on nearly all questions about Google's privacy practices is the company's stubborn insistence that it needs to retain logs tying users' IP addresses to search queries for at least nine months.

Google says it needs that data to improve its algorithms and police click fraud, but critics doubt whether the company really needs as much data as it retains. Overall, there's very little that could more easily compromise the many Web users who regularly conduct searches on Google.

If Google really wants to quell privacy concerns, it's going to have to do more than just roll out features that might offer some users token reassurance. A decision to shed IP addresses more promptly would be a good starting point.

1 comment about "Google's Analytics Opt-Out No Privacy Panacea".
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  1. Cliff Thomasset from GetaQuote.com, May 25, 2010 at 8:24 p.m.

    I block a cookie that Google uses on many publisher sites titled "sb-ssl.google.com". I believe this cookie is used frequently by Google to collect information. This cookie is also used to display maps, so if it is not active, then, you can not view their map feature also used on many sites.

    I do agree with Google that collecting IP addresses is a key element for detecting fraudulent clicks and shouldn't be eliminated from their collection activities in fairness to all their advertisers.

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