That sinking feeling in your stomach may actually be coming from your browser. Don't look now, but Google plans to release a browser plugin that will allow users to opt out of being tracked by … Google Analytics.
Google, leading search provider and the horsepower behind the popular Google Analytics web traffic analytics tool, is going to allow users to avoid being tracked by their own tool.
This brings up a number of questions and possible implications for webmasters and web marketers who use Google Analytics to track website traffic, primarily how usage of the plugin will affect collection of site traffic data. This begs another possibly more important question: why would Google do this when Google Analytics doesn't collect personal data in the first place?
First things last, it depends on what can be considered personal data. Does your ISP information and geographic location count as personal? Google Analytics does not collect individual IP addresses, meaning that all information tracked is completely anonymous.
Does this put Google in the category of total hypocrites since they can keep an indefinite record of users' search history? Perhaps. Search history allows Google to deliver those amazing personalized search results, and while they have made it easier to opt out of this feature with their Privacy Center, they don't exactly go out of their way to advertise this possibility. It also bears mention that a privacy group has asked the Federal Trade Commission to open an investigation into Google Buzz, so Google may be stinging just a bit on the privacy front.
The uproar has been voluminous and high profile, but my first reaction was So? How many people are even aware they have a Google Profile, let alone that they can edit this profile and adjust their privacy settings and ad preferences? I was not able to quickly locate any empirical data, but what is the total percentage of web users who use the AdBlock Plus plugin for Firefox? It's probably not great enough to put it outside the standard deviation.
My basic point is that for webmasters and marketers, this move may sell more subscriptions to Omniture and WebTrends as those of us behind the curtain want access to as much data as possible. But that move may be a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that doesn't yet–and may never–exist.