Is Google Analytics illegal?

The quick answer here is a big resounding NO!
A while ago, a series of articles were published about the decision of the Privacy Commissioner to sanction two companies for using Google Analytics. Since then, the question of whether Google Analytics is illegal has exploded. In this article, we will go through this in detail and give a deeper explanation of the decision taken by the Integrity Authority. 

What has the integrity authority examined?

The Swedish Data Protection Authorityhas investigated four companies and their use of Google Analytics. The companies that have been reviewed are Tele2, CDON, Coop and Dagens Industri. What the authority has examined is primarily whether the use of Google Analytics has violated the GDPR by transferring personal data to a third country. And the authority has found that all four companies have violated the GDPR as Google Analytics has had data storage in the US. Tele2 and CDON have been fined SEK 12 million and SEK 300,000 respectively for violating the GDPR. 

What should be clarified here, however, is that the privacy authority has reviewed the use of the Universal Google Analytics (UA) version from 2020. Since July 1, UA has been discontinued by Google and completely replaced by Google Analytics 4 (GA4), which we have previously written about here: Everything you need to know before switching from UA to GA4. The main difference between the two versions is that Google Analytics 4 does not transfer data to the US and has features that allow the data to be stored in the country where the user is located. In addition, it no longer saves IP numbers, which are now considered personal data. To say that Google Analytics is illegal is therefore extremely misleading and completely incorrect. What the judgment concerns is the old version that no one can use anymore, even if they want to.

Is the use of Google Analytics 4 prohibited by the integration authority?

No, it is not. As clearly stated in the press release from the Integration Authority, the audit is made for Universal Google Analtyics (UA) "The audits refer to a version of Google Analytics from August 14, 2020."

It is therefore easy to believe that the tool itself is illegal when the media and even the privacy authority do not clearly distinguish between these and clarify this in their decision. It creates concern among all companies and digital marketers who need to spend precious time and resources trying to find out if this is going to happen to their organizations next or even completely unnecessarily switching web analytics tools.

Read the press release from the Integration Authority as well as all full decisions here:

Want to learn how to get started with GA4 and how to work with GA4? Take our online course: Introduction to GA4

Do digital marketers need to worry about how Google Analytics 4 handles personal data?

The definition of personal data has changed over time and it is therefore not possible to give a long-term answer to this question. As the definitions currently stand, digital marketers do not have to worry about how Google Analytics uses personal data. This is primarily linked to the fact that data is not transferred to third countries such as the USA if the visitor is in the EU.

How long is data from Google Analytics (UA) stored?

As ofJuly 1, 2023, no new data will be collected for Universal Google Analytics (i.e. the older version). You will be able to access historical UA data until July 1, 2024 but after that the property will be deleted and you will not be able to access the data. 

Is historical data stored in Google Analytics illegal?

Even if the data is no longer collected, the "database" itself and its content is illegal as it is transferred to third countries. Our recommendation is to delete this data and also remove any UA code that remains on the website. It is possible to export data from UA which you can save yourself if you wish. 

What is the difference between GA4 and Matomo?

Matomo has in some places been painted as a leading alternative to GA4. Just like GA4, Matomo is a web analysis tool that measures web traffic, traffic referrals, conversions, etc. The big difference between Matomo and GA4 is that you can choose where the data is saved. You can set up your own server to save the data on and visualize it through the Matomo program. It is also possible, through Matomo, to buy server space in specific locations to ensure that your web data is saved there.
With GA4, you can export data from GA4 and save it on your own server if you wish, but GA4 will retrieve and save data based on the user's location. 

What is Schrems II?

Schrems II is a ruling from the European Court of Justice that stated that data cannot be transferred to third countries in any way and primarily not to the United States. This makes it more difficult to use cloud storage where servers are located in the US.

Will there be a Shrems III? ‍

There have been discussions about opening up for data transfer to the US but it has been talked about for years and now it seems more unlikely to happen. Whether that judgment would then be called Schrems III is questionable :) 

Why is Google analytics illegal?

Google Analytics is not illegal. The new version Google Analytics 4 is legal. However, the older version that has been decommissioned and can no longer collect new data is illegal according to the decision of the privacy authority in July 2023. 

What is the difference between UA and GA4?

The primary difference is how the data is stored and what kind of data is stored beyond some UX. UA saved data on servers outside the EU and also collected IP numbers. GA4 saves data in the geographical area where the visitor is located so that data is not sent to third countries and GA4 does not collect IP numbers. Furthermore, GA4 is event-based instead of session-based as UA was. Please read this article to dive into this: Everything you need to know before switching from UA to GA4 .

What are the alternatives to Google Analytics?

There are a whole host of tools that measure web traffic. Matomo mentioned above in this article is one example. Adobe Analytics, Kissmetric, Tiny analytics are other examples. Then most CMS have their own web analytics tools such as Wix or Shopify.

Want to learn how to get started with GA4 and how to work with GA4? Take our online course: Introduction to GA4

NOTE! We at Contitude are not lawyers but digital marketers. Therefore, we do not give legal advice but tell you our view on an event.

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