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It was only a matter of time before Google Analytics had to make a pivot given the priority for privacy around the web.

For awhile a lot of marketers wondered what the future looked like for tracking cookies and other methods of observing website traffic, given GDPR and other more local rules for business transparency.

It was perhaps the end of the wild west of data tracking, and perhaps partially driven by years of examples of large companies like Facebook mishandling user’s data, where profits trumped privacy as an MO.

So what’s changed?

For business owners and marketers using Google Analytics, the advent of GA4 brings a few new features we’ll highlight here:

  • Driven by machine learning to discover and highlight insights for the user may not have noticed looking at the raw data (the way Analytics used to work)
  • Allows users to change what events are logged without having to alter the tracking code in the website. This implies more of the tracking is done server-side once the user’s website’s tracking code is called, which no longer requires the script itself to change to alter tracking.
  • Enhanced event tracking. Interactions like page views, clicks, and other user actions can be better logged, and adjustments to that tracking can be done without any new tracking code. (Related to the above point.)
  • Cross-domain tracking, which when properly set up can track activity between domains, such as a website driving traffic to a landing page at a different domain.
  • User ID cross-platform tracking. Similar to cross-domain tracking, this will allow one to track activity between platforms, such as a user starting on a website and transitioning to an associated app.

This also means more favorable time spans for measuring engagements. Once example given is that in the past Google Analytics would track a user taking an action if it occurred within 4 hours of the end of the day the user first landed on the site.

Now, though, this kind of “event” is tracked up to 72 hours from when the user first visits.

That means much more accurate conversion tracking since you’re not missing the log of someone who visited right now and came back to take an action later.

For more information about these changes and how your reports may look different, as well as how to set up Google Analytics 4, visit Radd Interactive’s article.

All of the above may sound exciting for businesses. But…

What do these changes have to do with users?

Many of the changes to Google Analytics with 4 is that it’s innately more GDPR-compliant.

For starters, GA4 has two options for how long you can store/track user data: 2 months and 14 months. This is a much shorter potential span of time than in the past, where it would track up to 64 months (over 5 years).

As Measured Collective points out, this is automatically in line with GDPR’s minimization principle.

User IP addresses are also anonymized. In the past Google Analytics would log each user’s IP address as part of the tracking process. Now, IP anonymizing is on by default and can’t be disabled.

For websites in the UK and Europe, or for other websites who receive significant traffic from those places, obtaining user consent to use cookies and other tracking methods was already a requirement.

Ultimately we hope the balancing act between what is good for big companies and what’s good for users tilts further toward the latter.

But these are reassuring changes in the right direction — especially as other big corporations change their TOS to be ever more invasive.