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I am in particular concerned with legal implications due to strong privacy legislations. However, I was also thinking about performance and false results by users blocking it.

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Its generally a good idea to pose legal questions to a lawyer. –  Tim Post Jul 11 '10 at 16:12
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Is there a badge for being a spelling nazi? "downsides", not "downsites". –  JasonBirch Jul 12 '10 at 1:33
    
@Jason: I've been wishing I could edit this since it was posted. Kept hoping someone who could, would. –  Rebecca Chernoff Jul 12 '10 at 1:50
    
This video answers the performance/SEO side: youtube.com/watch?v=LLmO1GE4GvI –  DisgruntledGoat Jul 12 '10 at 19:53
    
Sadly right now, only the mods have enough power to edit this question title. 2000 rep is the current requirement and 764 is the highest anyone has achieved at the time of writing. –  Mark Hatton Jul 13 '10 at 9:58
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7 Answers 7

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I'm not a lawyer, take my advice as only that. You might want to speak to one about this issue.

However, as long a you provide a good privacy policy on your site, normally in the footer of your site, you should be good to go.

Also, as with all JavaScript, you want the benefits of your tracking to out weigh the costs. Basically, is the information producing profits over cost.

Google analytics can slow your page load time, just like every element on your pages does.

As far as false results go, there is not much you can do. The best thing to do is to really analyze the results you get back, over time. However, getting perfect data collection is not the point of tracking software. The software is made to help you make more objective decisions about your website. This is opposed to not having any data at all.

The software is made to help you optimized your content and know what pages work best.

Don't let numbers be the only thing you look at.

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GA won't slow the loading/display of your page if the code is put in the bottom of the page (or if you use the new asynchronous tracking code). –  pelms Jul 11 '10 at 16:14
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Like others have answered before, I am not a lawyer.

Regarding performance, Google recently introduced a new async tracking script which makes the performance issues mostly noticeable to the users (obviously it is still using resources, but since the page loads first the user can't tell).

I have tried the new script and it is faster.

http://code.google.com/apis/analytics/docs/tracking/asyncUsageGuide.html

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Another item you may want to consider is whether Google is providing you with enough value to pay for the information you are giving them about your site's data, relevance of specific pages, etc.

They already own a large proportion of this for your landing pages because of their overwhelming search domination, but by installing Analytics you're giving them ALL of it.

Google says that they don't use the information to determine your site's rankings, but they're measurement geeks, and of course they're analyzing the data in aggregate to improve their services.

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Anybody who blocks JavaScript won't show up on Google Analytics. I don't know of that many people who deliberately block Google Analytics itself, but I do know that Analytics under-reports traffic. On one Ajax-based site I run, it is almost accurate, but on another static HTML/CGI site I run it is under-reporting (only (very approximately) 80% of actual visitors show up in Google Analytics), so somehow or other it is getting blocked a lot. Another thing is that it doesn't show up any web crawler or robot traffic, and doesn't show up hotlinked images and other kinds of abuse.

As for delaying the load, loading the same piece of JavaScript again and again on each page won't slow things down since the JavaScript will be cached anyway. It is detecting the time on the page somehow, so it must also be phoning home on page load and unload, which has to involve a short delay. However I honestly cannot detect that or notice it at all.

As far as I know, there is no requirement to have a privacy policy in order to use Analytics (unlike Adsense).

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GA only records the time when the page is loaded by the browser - it doesn't run any code as you leave a page. The time on page is just the difference in time stamps between one page an the next. –  pelms Jul 11 '10 at 16:12
    
Do you have a source for this? "(only about 60% of actual visitors show up in Google Analytics)" Or is that from personal experience? –  Micky McQuade Jul 11 '10 at 21:45
    
@Micky: that is from personal experience, I'm discussing my own site. –  delete Jul 11 '10 at 22:53
    
When did it change from 60% to 80%? That kind of jump makes me sceptical. –  Bobby Jack Aug 4 '10 at 17:20
    
@Bobby: that is an edit of the article to point out that it's an approximation, not a representation of an actual jump. –  delete Aug 5 '10 at 2:02
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I strongly recommend comparing the output of any analytics service to your server side stats. More often than not, you'll find that they don't agree. This is mostly (as you said) due to people blocking JS, or just outright sending GA requests to localhost.

As far as the legal ramifications, I can only offer this advice:

When in doubt, don't.

You really need to discuss this with an attorney, who can:

  • Advise against it
  • Help you write a privacy policy

Its a unique enough issue to raise here, but you should really seek legal advice from legal professionals :)

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You'll also find they don't agree 'the other way', if you see what I mean. One of the drivers behind GA is the fact that pages fetched by many people behind a caching proxy won't result in hits on your server, so you won't see the stats. Tracking things client-side mitigates this to SOME extent but, of course, there are still the caveats that you mentioned. –  Bobby Jack Aug 4 '10 at 17:19
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Google Analytics does not collect any personally identifiable information and it breaks their terms of use to modify the code to do that.

Google have always recommended putting their code at the bottom of the page specifically so that downloading the script doesn't hold up the page loading and display. They've also recently introduced asynchronous tracking code which should pretty much eliminate these kind of problems.

As mentioned elsewhere, web analytics is not about absolute numbers but about making useful comparisons (leading to actionable insights) so unless you think your audience is predominantly made up of Google/Javascript blockers, it won't prevent you getting useful insights.

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In a lot of jurisdictions collecting ip addresses is considered collecting personally identifiable information! –  txwikinger Jul 13 '10 at 13:47
    
It is if you can get access to users ISP logs and account details to tie an IP address to a particular account. Your web server will be recording IP addresses in it's logs already. –  pelms Jul 13 '10 at 18:05
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Google Analytics has recently added a config option to strip off the final octet of the recorded IP address, thereby anonymizing the recorded IP - see code.google.com/apis/analytics/docs/gaJS/… –  Jamie Anstice Jul 29 '10 at 23:54
    
@Jamie. Interesting. Hadn't spotted that. –  pelms Jul 31 '10 at 11:11
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You site will be a little slower but it should be relatively unnoticed to most if not all users. Google works very hard to keep their footprint small.

As for legal implications, contacting a lawyer is a good idea. I am not a lawyer so take my advice as is. Most sites use Google Analytics because it is free, unobtrusive, and works well. Also, Google doesn't collect any info you enter into a site just what and where you click.

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