The future of Google Analytics is server-side – Here’s why


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Today’s column is written by Hugo Loriot, partner at fifty-five.

The annual Cannes Film Festival has elevated France’s reputation in advertising and marketing technology over the past decades. But at this year’s event, France’s position on data privacy was a notable backdrop.

Over the past two weeks, Meta lost in court against the French champion of ad-tech Criteo, and it will now have to grant better access to its inventory. Meanwhile, the French data protection watchdog, the CNIL, has just declared Google Analytics illegal – a movement which has also just been followed by the Italian data protection authority.

What happens now? Turns out there may be a server-side solution.

Is GA-XIT fast approaching?

The CNIL’s recent choice reflects a decision made earlier this year, when the organization concluded that a local website’s use of the tool was against European Union law. The ruling points to the transfer of personal data — including, but not limited to, users’ IP addresses — to the United States, in the absence of a strong replacement for the defunct Privacy Shield.

This comes just a month after Google announced a series of measures aimed at exclusively collecting European users’ IP addresses on local servers, redacting them before processing the information in the United States and providing marketers with controls. data sharing at the national level.

Adding to the confusion, the CNIL also recently ruled against Universal Analytics, the old version of Google Analytics, which most website owners still use. Although Google’s new features are specific to Google Analytics 4 (GA4), there is still a lot of uncertainty about compliance, especially given recent rulings.

Only France and Italy have officially taken a stand against Google Analytics so far, but we can expect other EU countries to follow suit. Marketers now face a tough decision: double down on Google Analytics, migrate to GA4 and include regulators’ recommendations to manage personal data or preemptively switch to a local web analytics provider.

Google Analytics is by far the most popular web analytics technology. There aren’t many credible alternatives. Switching to a new tool is time consuming and expensive. Marketers should create and implement a new tagging plan, train their teams to use new reporting workspaces, migrate dashboards, and lose KPI comparisons to one year to the next. Global organizations face a particular challenge: having to maintain a local solution in Europe and leverage Google Analytics everywhere else.

The server-side alternative

There is a silver lining. The CNIL has approved server-side implementations of Google Analytics, as long as marketers take responsibility for collecting and hiding personal data in Europe.

Browsers collect website page views, events or conversions and send them directly to Google Analytics servers for default processing. But with a server-side implementation, events can be sent to a marketer’s cloud infrastructure in Europe, anonymized, and then routed to Google Analytics servers for processing and visualization.

More than a workaround, server-side relocation is becoming a major trend. This gives marketers more control over data for segmentation and attribution, as obtaining user consent becomes even trickier. As an example of the growing popularity of server-side movement, Meta has recommended moving retargeting and conversion tags to its server-side tagging CAPI over the past 18 months.

Yet there are obstacles. Despite their growing importance, server-side implementations are complex to manage and require working closely with IT.

More uncertainty ahead

Privacy regulations aren’t set to slow down anytime soon. Legal compliance uncertainty around Google Analytics in Europe is likely to persist. GA4 with a server-side approach can be the future-proof solution worth betting on for global success.

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