How Google's free tools make you pay

I don't know about you, but I can't get through a day without Google.

Whether it's Google Insights, Google AdWords, Google Ad Planner, Google Analytics, Google Website Optimizer, Google Docs or just the plain old Google search engine, Google's free tools have insidiously crept their way into my everyday working life, till I couldn't imagine life without them. Almost like a good man really.

But after realizing my dependency, I started getting concerned. Could I trust this Google/man knowing so much personal information about me? Here I am, nervous about putting personal information on Facebook or giving out my home number, and yet I've handed over my business details to Google on a silver platter!

Can Google be trusted? 

Because make no mistake, these freebies are all data sharing tools.

Question: Why do you think it's worthwhile for Google to spend time, resources and millions of dollars developing these, then offer them to you free?

When you think of "free" you'd normally take it to mean you're not paying a monetary figure upfront. However, there's still an exchange and the ultimate outcome can see you paying way more than you realized!

Almost always, the agenda of the organization offering the free tool differs vastly from your agenda in using it.

Google's data-sharing ways are not a new debate. Ever since Google purchased and re-branded Urchin in 2005, stripped off the high end features and it became the freely available Google Analytics, there's been controversy surrounding whether all that data is used for good or evil (and whose).

Google Analytics captures clicks, page views, referring sites, and if you track conversions - your quantity of sales, when and where you get sales from, how much those sales are, what you pay for each sale.

That's a lot of sensitive information you're placing into Google's eager data-sharing hands.

 You're placing sensitive information into Google's hands

If you're an advertiser with Google and you are giving them your sales information, that's even scarier - talk about a conflict of interest!

Online, Google could be cast in the role of a double agent. They possess a staggering amount of your information (whether you're using their advertising services or not), which is shared for the "greater good" of their users. If you're using some of Google's products, then you have probably accepted an agreement (you know the one that's always too tedious to read through) that allows Google to use the information they collect on your site. I don't think any of us are naive enough to believe that it's all for our own good.

Here's what Google have to say about data-sharing: "Shared data will be used to improve the services we provide you and will help create more powerful features for you to choose from. As they become available, only those who share their data with Google will gain access to these services and features."

Roughly translated, this means hand over your secrets and we'll let you play with our toys...

Share your data in exchange for Google's toys
 
Google is NOT a charity. They are a flourishing business that netted $6 billion last year.

What are you giving away each time you use one of these "free" tools? How free is it if it allows Google to siphon away your prospective customers under the guise of better relevancy?

Google's Privacy Center states, "Google collects personal information when you register for a Google service or otherwise voluntarily provide such information. We may combine personal information collected from you with information from other Google services or third parties to provide a better user experience, including customizing content for you." (Hmm, bit vague do you think?)

HOW this data is shared is a million dollar question.

 How does Google share your data?

Let's take a step back for a minute. Google has become the search engine of choice with 72.11% US market share (as of February 2009 - reported by Hitwise), by offering relevant search results to their users. We've seen through quality score and other algorithmic changes that their focus is still largely on relevancy to their users.

To this end, in March 2009 Google implemented behavioral targeting so they could target the most relevant ads to their searchers, based on the massive bank of information they collect from - you guessed it - Google Analytics.

Google collect sensitive information on both you and your customer and it's pretty detailed data too! Check this out from Google's Privacy Policy "Google's servers automatically record information when you visit our website or use some of our products, including the URL, IP address, browser type and language, and the date and time of your request." Additionally, "We may use personal information to provide the services you've requested, including services that display customized content and advertising. We may also use personal information for auditing, research and analysis to operate and improve Google technologies and services."

So let's get this straight. They combine behavioral targeting (personally scary in itself) with the data they freely collect on your business through Google Analytics to offer up more competitor options to increase their revenue.

Maybe I'm too young (I flatter myself) to be this cynical, but hands up who thinks this is a huge conflict of interests? If this were a friend, you'd consider it back-stabbing behavior.

Let's look at a practical example:

  1. You own a car audio business selling both through a physical outlet and an online store.
  2. You've been fostering good customer relationships with regular emails and customer loyalty discounts.
  3. Google records your customers visits to your site, they also know that your customer searched for an Alpine car audio system.
  4. Your customer looks for reviews and comparisons between a couple of Alpine models because they can't decide which one to order from you. Google's behavioral targeting picks this up.
  5. While they are browsing Google are throwing up AdSense ads for Alpine car audio systems and the customer is drawn away with Google's siren call to competitor web sites.
  6. Your competitor banks your money - you get zip.

Your Competitor Wins

From a consumer point of view this may be great. However for you, this is an obstacle course for your customer to give you their business, if in fact they even do now.

Right now you're probably seeing why long-term, you are actually "paying" for using Google's free tools,  particularly Google Analytics. Instead of paying money upfront for the privilege of using Google Analytics, you are handing Google inside knowledge on how your online business runs. In the end, you lose.

The hand that feeds you is also feeding your competitors, and when the owner of that hand has access to confidential information on everyone, and has already solicited your consent to use it for their own purposes, you'd be right to be nervous.

Let's go back offline for a moment. Imagine if every credit card transaction you made, appointment that you made, every book, magazine, newspaper, that you read, every letter that you sent was known.

If you're using Google's other products eg. YouTube, AdWords, AdSense, etc, then they've got a surprisingly complete profile on you and your behavior. Oh and don't even get me started on Google Latitude that tracks your location everywhere, or Google Voice that intercepts your phone calls, I'm starting to look for my barcode.

Seriously, aliens don't need to kidnap anyone, they just need to infiltrate Google (and I don't know whether they exist or not, so please no one get me started on that debate).

Google Photo Spy
 
If it was the Government that captured all that information on us, how okay would you be about that?

And for anyone that I still hear saying "but it's free Reena!" well, that certainly is the case and by the way, did I mention it's also stupidly easy to set-up? Google do know what they're doing...

If you're a new advertiser with a conservative starting budget, Google Analytics can seem like a godsend. What I'd like you to consider here and now, is how it impacts your business and whether taking this avoidable risk is worth the cost to you in the long-term.

One of my personal concerns is the interpretation of one of Google's Privacy Policy points where they state, "We may share aggregated non-personal information with third parties outside of Google."

I've previously had a tremendously helpful Google rep (God bless her) and she shared a lot of competitive "aggregated non-personal information" to help me along with spending more money on my Google advertising.

Perhaps it was the industry, but a dodo (flightless bird - extinct for a reason) could've put two and two together. I knew exactly which competitors she was subtly referring to (wink-wink) and wow, I was a child in a candy store, I had an edge!

Then we give each other a moochy air kiss on the cheek and she's off to her next meeting, I fancy sharing the goods and insider "aggregate" information with my competitor who's not a dodo either.

 Google Information Sharing

Austrian Professor Hermann Maurer has been studying the Google search engine since its birth in the nineties. Dr Maurer claims that if you don't "study the small print the person installing the software may miss a declaration that the information transferred through the server will be sent to Google. That means any customer using a company's website which runs Google Analytics is effectively passing details of their search path to Google without knowing."

To clarify, Google Analytics' JavaScript code is injected on every page of your site and this software then runs on each site visit. They then have access to contents of any forms and pretty much anything else on the page.

Dr Maurer's study found that 83 percent of servers had Google Analytics installed. "That means even if you didn't use Gmail or Google search, by doing anything on the internet, four out of five servers automatically pass on every conversation a customer has with the server on to Google."

Another privacy study done by graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley, found that Google was the most conspicuous tracker on third party sites. Here are some pretty eye-catching statistics:

  1. 81 of the top 100 sites used Google Analytics
  2. 70 of those same sites also contained DoubleClick cookies (advertising company owned by Google - another conflict of interest?)
  3. Google had a presence on 92 of the top 100 sites

One of the graduates, Mr Soltani, said, "I don't know that anyone has identified the scope and depth of the coverage that Google has across the Web in terms of tracking. Our data shows that even if you are not going to Google, if you are browsing the Web they are collecting data about you."

Here are some other concerns.


Privacy breach with third party cookies?

Quick lesson - A tracking cookie is a message from the web server to the web browser, where it's then stored. Cookies capture such things as IP addresses, user preferences, contact information, etc. First party cookies are stored on your server. Third party cookies are stored on a server outside your control, as is the case if you're using Google Analytics.

Bottom line, you are collecting information from users that you do not control the storage or use of, which presents a privacy issue. This is information that you truly may not want leaving your site.

Privacy on third party cookies 


Branding

Do you want to share your brand as well as your data?

Google Analytics terms of service state, "Unless You notify Google otherwise in writing, You hereby grant to Google and its wholly owned subsidiaries a limited license to use Your trade names, trademarks, service marks, logos, domain names and other distinctive brand features ("Brand Features") in presentations, marketing materials, customer lists, and financial reports."

 Are you willing to give your brand to Google?

How comfortable are you with handing over your brand? Most companies don't even give this much trust to their employees these days!


Limitation of liability


Google acknowledges the possibility of lost profits, although they will not be held liable. While disclaimers are common these days, few others have the sheer amount of dirt on you that Google does.

Google Analytics' limitation of liability says, "Google and its wholly owned subsidiaries will not be liable to user or any third-party claimant for any indirect, special, punitive, consequential (including, without limitation, lost profits or lost data collected through the service), or incidental damages, whether based on a claim or action of contract, warranty, negligence, strict liability, or other tort, breach of any statutory duty, indemnity or contribution, or otherwise, even if Google and/or its subsidiaries and affiliates has been advised of the possibility of such damages..."

 Google's limitation of liability


Some final thoughts to ponder


Remember, as much as Google is a "tool" in the conducting or our businesses, Google is a business first and foremost. With the bundling of Google services, this puts them in an extraordinary position of power.

As Stan Lee coined (and Spider-Man then said) "With great power, there must also come great responsibility."

Whether Google can be trusted with this immense responsibility remains to be seen. Have they've already abused this power? Well this is open to interpretation. Certainly it seems to be a case of the fox guarding the henhouse.

Is the fox guarding the henhouse? 

The most important question is whether you are personally happy to freely hand over your information and your visitors' information, when the information is used to fuel your competitors' efforts and siphons money away from your business. Ultimately, you need to weigh this up for yourself - the upfront non-paid benefit of using Google Analytics versus the potential losses with the information you traded for the free tool, being used against you. It's certainly a risk you can avoid.

Feel free to comment on your own concerns with Google Analytics and share any alternative Analytics tools.

UPDATE:  We've spoken with Matt from NetApplications who has offered a Free 30 day trial to test a "Google Free" method of advanced analytics. We're testing this service ourselves and we'll report back to you soon on the results.

In the meantime, you can sign up for a free trial too - check it out here.

Sources:
Privacy concerns about Google Analytics
Google Privacy Policy
Google Analytics Terms of Service
Google Is Top Tracker of Surfers in Study
Global Search Market Share, July 2009 vs. July 2008

Photo Credits: diveofficer, dionhinchcliffe, Stefan Buddy, secretlondon123, diegodacal, clara, caitlinator, robad0b.

September 16, 2009

Comments (50)

Said this on September 16, 2009 At 05:58 am
well Google has become the internet giant and now its very much important to know about the Google !
so your post is very good!
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 02:22 am
well Google has become the internet giant and now it's very much important to know about Google!
so your post is very good!
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 10:14 am
I remember reading warnings of this a few years ago, and it was quietly squashed. I'm so glad you're posting this to remind people that there's always a cost involved.

[Yes, it was quite a big debate some time back and if anything, there's more info being shared now. So it's just good to be aware of so you can weigh up that cost. Reena]
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 10:17 am
Very interesting, but as long as Google provide most websites with the traffic we need to survive, we don't really have a choice. Until another company takes Google's #1 spot online, we just need to pay our "taxes"...

Thanks for the great article!

[You're welcome :) and yes, Google do currently provide the "bread and butter" for most websites online. In saying that, you've got a choice in how much information you disclose on your "bread and butter" through the tools that you use. Reena]
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 10:18 am
I think you can use the Google toys when you start your business and to test products. But when you really find a Gold mine, it
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 10:24 am
Is it possible to quantify the downside of NOT using Google Analytics? I have a very small and new site - will I handicap myself by steering clear of Google?

[You don't necessarily need to steer clear of Google, not at all. In fact, most of your traffic may come courtesy of Google. Google Analytics is separate though, and used for tracking purposes to monitor site activity, performance, sale data, etc. Using Google's tracking tool is completely optional. You can choose not to use this separate tool, with no effect whatsoever on search traffic. It's just that you won't be giving Google permission to "look in" on things. Reena]
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 10:31 am
Google could quite easily take over the planet, that's if they haven't already. That aside, I don't mind information I help to provide being available for my competitors, because I'm not afraid of them.

BB
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 10:35 am
as the word google is easy to understand and to spell, it is also easy to use. The usability of their SE (with the minimalistic layout) made it famous and many other SEs started to adopt this easy to use design.
the free tool that makes me pay the most is the free keyword tool as i get a lot of ideas for new niches which I promote with PPC (really have to think about your speed PPC software :) )

[Google's keyword tool is certainly a good free tool to use and it's also one that doesn't require too much information in exchange as well. Reena]
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 10:37 am
Just replaced the last remnant of Google Analytics code with statcounter code on my sites. Was concerned about this a while back, but your article has certainly nailed the privacy issue for me and my business.

[Good stuff! Particularly with the introduction of Google's behavioral targeting it's clear that Google is using more and more of the information they're collecting, so the more say you have over your own data, the better. Reena]
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 10:37 am
I think I'll take my chances with the "free" Google Analytics. I'm not so sure that it makes sense to pay for some time of analytics unless you are a huge online company.

[Certainly. This article is more to give you an awareness so you can make that informed decision - either way. On the other hand, consider also that unless you are a huge online company, any loss may have a bigger impact. Reena]
Gina
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 11:14 am
Isn't this obvious? Did you really think that Google was doing this out of the kindness of their heart? It's a business.
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 11:35 am
If you're so concerned about Google Analytics and seem to be almost paranoid (I say that in a friendly, "good" way; no offense intended) about Google's power and outreach into our personal data and business data -- I just have one question for you:

Why haven't you removed AdSense from your blog? Okay, a second question -- do you use AdWords?

Makes little sense to me, if you're truly that concerned about Google and personal/business privacy issues, why you add to their wealth and share in it via AdSense??

Not meaning to sound harsh or cynical -- but what's the story on the AdSense on this blog??

[Thanks for your comments. This article is mainly to give everyone an awareness of their data being shared, particularly with Google Analytics rather than an advertising method such as AdSense or AdWords. Google Analytics being a tracking tool, it's of course where you share the most data related to your business, particularly sales-related stats. So I'm not saying do or don't here, just be aware of it so you can make your own decision, that's relevant for your business. We're addressing privacy concerns that have been raised with Google's data sharing - Analytics being the main area of concern. Reena]
barb
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 11:41 am
really? this is about sums up the entire article...

UPDATE: We've spoken with Matt from NetApplications who has offered a Free 30 day trial to test a "Google Free" method of advanced analytics. We're testing this service ourselves and we'll report back to you soon on the results.

In the meantime, you can sign up for a free trial too - check it out here.
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 11:45 am
Some good food for thought.
barb
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 11:45 am
oops. replace "right" with "write"
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 12:04 pm
VERY GOOD POST!!! i knew it but i wasn't sure. This world as internet world tends to become ONE, so, the role of Google is to unify the electronical world with their services which will collect very easily our data and they can after reuse it as a Whole. The new world order is coming, with the help of Google.

[Too true Nash! Reena]
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 12:48 pm
Nothing really new here... just coming to the surface and being explained. The problem is that nobody is going up against Google. You can choose to not use the free tools but they will still get the information from visitors to your site. The Internet is NOT private... you shouldn't expect privacy. The same with Government... you have a Social Security Number issued in the United States... and while the intent was never to be used to track individuals (Supposedly) that is actually it's primary purpose. Capitalism feeds corruption. All Large Corporations are corrupt. Intel has pushed AMD to the verge of Bankruptcy by secret agreements with Vendors to NOT sell AMD. The EU is fining them over1 Billion dollars. Makes no difference they will just pass the cost along. I found your article interesting... but lacking in solutions. A paid analytic solution won't solve the problem. Google is just a huge evil corporation doing what corporations do in the name of Capitalism.

[No, it's not a new debate but one that pays to be reminded and aware on! Even with some paid analytics solutions, you're data may not be private, so it's always best to check on the storage and use of your data (with any analytics tool). While certain activities are tracked while you're online (nature of the beast I suppose), Google Analytics is a different kettle of fish, mainly because you're providing a lot more information such as sales data and more intimate knowledge of your web site, then say if you were just browsing the net as a consumer for example. Reena]
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 01:12 pm
I would never use google analytics, it is just too scary. Nor do I use Gmail, Google Docs and am trying to remember to use bing as my search engine. It is really scary, and has been worrying me for a while now.

There is a great open source tracking program called Piwik (piwik.org). I have been using this since January and am quite happy with it. Could be worth your while to check it out.

[Thanks for the tip on the alternative tool! Reena]
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 01:35 pm
Wow!

I never really thought about how far Google's tentacles reach into all of our lives - the funny thing is that if they are tracking 80% of the top websites already...

...it's going to take a Microsoft type anti-monopoly, anti-competition government intervention to break that up.

Maybe I'm too trusting of our internet "big brother' - and I DO have tons of Google related complaints, ranging from shutting down Adsense accounts arbitrarily to not listing websites in their search engine to forcing the users of their ad network to sing up for adsense to get paid - but until I see some bad results that cost me money, I'm OK with using their analytics, adsense, adwords, ad network -damn, they DO have their hands everywhere!

LOL that was the longest run on sentence EVER - I'm sending it to the Guinness Book Of World Records!

So far, Google has been a benevolent force, slowly working its way into every crevice of online life, and making money from it VERY successfully. The warnings are out there, but its just a fear of what COULD happen, not what IS happening - so far!

[Some things are already happening I believe (eg. behavioral targeting paired with shared data from tools), although one can see that Google is trying to improve the user experience here with added relevancy. From an advertiser's point of view, it's just worthwhile being aware of how your data could be used since interests can conflict here. See how you go! Reena]
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 01:53 pm
Hmm. This really is something to ponder. I think I understand, in effect, that there really is no way to get around Google knowing your business whether you use Analytics or not.

[While Google tracks a lot of activity online, I believe Analytics is the main data-sharing tool to be aware of, just because you're sharing sales information and more sensitive data about your business here, so it has the most potential to be used in a competitive sense. Reena]
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 02:10 pm
Good article. Points worth pondering. Things I never thought about. Thanks for the info.
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 02:30 pm
I'm convinced - goodbye Google Analytics.
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 03:03 pm
Google Analytics isn't even very accurate. We've never felt that it gave an accurate picture of what was happening on our site - especially when we compare it to our back office and several other "grader" type programs out there.

[That's another great point Stacy, possibly it's due to Google Analytics' javascript tracking and that not being enabled on all browsers. Thanks for sharing that! Reena]
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 03:13 pm
You hit the nail on the head Reena. It's something I've been concerned about for years and I'm always amazed how little people are concerned about it. Years ago when google added conversion tracking I added it to a couple of my campaigns. Amazingly within a couple of days my minimum bids went way up. A bit too coincidental if you asked me.

Just linked to this post from my blog by the way...

[Thanks for the link. Much appreciated! Allan.]
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 03:28 pm
Very enlightening! Perhaps you could follow up with an article regarding just how we can regain some control over our sites.

Thanks for the information.

[Great idea, I'll see what I can do! Reena]
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 03:31 pm
I love Google but I am not willing to give it all of my business data. Especially if you use Adwords and Website Optimizer at the same time, I can see a potential conflict of interest.

As for analytics, I use an open source application called Piwik which is very good. And for split testing or multivariate testing, there are plenty of applications available on the market where you keep the data on your own server, including my own Power Split Tester.

[Thanks for the tips on the alternative tools. Reena]
ej michel
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 04:39 pm
I give them my information to "possibly" share with my competitors, and my competitors do the same exact thing. So, we're even! Nothing to obsess over...

[Yes, at least Google Analytics data-sharing is not singling any one advertiser. It also depends on whether your competitors use Google Analytics. Reena]
Leo
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 05:25 pm
Very well written however if what you say about being affected even if you're not a user of analytics it seems a given that we are being given a hiding anyway?

[Maybe it's just how big a hiding :) A lot of information goes through Google's servers and so yes, a lot of activity is tracked. You could look at it as far as how much or what sort of information you are willing to share though, and that's where awareness comes in. With a tracking tool such as Analytics, you're giving away a lot more about your business than if you were just surfing the net. So while you may be prepared for Google to monitor your searches so they can behaviorally target you as a consumer, as an advertiser you may not want to give away sales and performance data about your business if you know what I mean. Reena]
alex
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 05:59 pm
thats why i really hope that other search engines like yahoo and msn gain market share. Google is getting all pervasive... they are getting into just about everything...

[Well so far Bing is on the up and up, so we'll see what happens with that long-term. It's certainly an exciting new addition to search. Reena]
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 06:51 pm
Why would anybody even Use Google Analytics is beyond me! There are so Many other Better FREE stats programs on the Net it is staggering.

Don't be lazy and look around. Just because our Big Brother G. is putting it right under your nose you Don't Have to take it!

And yes, I did try it once - haven't found it any better than even my "default" stats on my sites Cpanels. (I have 2 or 3 depending on my hosts). You can also get free Wordpress and other platforms stats plugins/scripts.

And Yes, Big Brother G IS getting scarier and scarier each day. Maybe that's way I am on my way to eliminate my 'dependency' on them. There still Is world "outside of Google".

I've already risked my life once to escape totalitarianism.

[That's a good point, Google does put it right under our noses so it can be a lazy option as well. If you've got any tips on the other stats tools you mentioned, please share them! Reena]
Hans
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 08:19 pm
Very interesting and good article Reena. I am only wondering if I use Adwords (where I pay for) has the same results by Google tracking and using my personal info what is the alternative?
To do business on the internet and get the sales needed to survive as a business I still have to use a search engine like Google.
It is as you say that 80% of all searches goes through Google. If I use only the other smaller search engines I won't have the volume of sales and who knows where they up to, probably they do the same tactics as well.
I hope to see a follow-up article on this topic and some answers what we can do to protect our sensitive information.
Thanks again.

[The reality is Google's market share is too large to bypass so I wouldn't suggest using other smaller engines instead of Google (but you could use them in addition to). Google is a profitable source of income for many businesses. Simply be aware of the data that you are providing, more so with a tool like Google Analytics which you give far more information on your business, than most other data-sharing tools. Thanks for the suggestion on the follow-up article, that's a good idea. Reena]
Will
Said this on September 24, 2009 At 09:30 pm
Statcounter.com has a free version of website analytics I use on all my blogs.

[Thanks for sharing this Will! Reena]
Said this on September 25, 2009 At 05:27 am
I've never scrolled down so far and been so involved in an article for a long time like this one. Great stuff (and a little scary)!
To lighten the situation - There's a room full of geeks and one announces that he entered "How to beat Google?" and the reply he received was "Do you mean how to bow before Google?"
Mike
Said this on September 25, 2009 At 05:56 pm
This is a great article! I use Google with my business and I always ponder about all their free tools. It would be amazing to have access to all of their information. What should we do to protect ourselves?
Said this on September 26, 2009 At 09:38 am
Outstanding post. Reena yes I agree with you 100%. But we are being held hostage until something else comes around. And if it does will it be another monster? I have thought long and hard about ridding myself of google altogether but it is not feasible for the small online business person.
Said this on September 26, 2009 At 12:42 pm
Google is becoming the new Microsoft in terms of how they control and dominate an industry. Microsoft had control because virtually everyone ran Windows. So, Microsoft could do things like integrate Internet Explorer into Windows to gain a huge competitive advantage. Google is using their tremendous amount of data to keep other competitors at bay. The funny thing is that for years a lot of people saw Microsoft as evil and Google as a saint.

However, I don't believe either reference is accurate. I believe Microsoft and Google are businesses doing their best to make as much money as possible. Unfortunately, there can be side effects from those actions such as no drive to improve their business products since they dominate the industry. This is why I believe that even a free market economy needs strict regulations and oversight in order to keep the business playing field fair.

[That's right, they're both businesses and not necessarily "good or evil" - it's just that not all their business goals may align perfectly with your own business goals! A good example may be that their goal is to increase advertising revenue, your goal may be to decrease your ad spend. I do hope they continue to improve their business products, I'd just love to not have to give over too much in exchange for using them :) Reena]
Said this on September 26, 2009 At 03:50 pm
Excellent stuff, Reena.

There's another reason why I refuse to use Google Analytics on any of my almost-100 sites:

Whenever I encounter slow-loading pages, a quick look at the status bar of my browser invariably shows a loooooooooong display of "transferring data from Google Analytics" (or similar).

John
Said this on September 26, 2009 At 04:51 pm
Talk about a brilliant article - that's one reason why I NEVER use my gmail account for sensitive information.

Your article is fantastic - will be sharing this with my network. Thanks!
Ray
Said this on September 26, 2009 At 05:01 pm
I click "View">>Page Source" and scroll to the bottom of the page and see the Google Analytics Javascript code installed on this site.

[As Reena says, we're testing alternatives. Allan.]
Said this on September 26, 2009 At 11:29 pm
Yes, indeedy!

Very, very interesting article. This stoush has been brewing for some time as several people including the author point out, and we've just been too lazy or too easily seduced; they certainly ARE great services, aren't they?

The title of the article is very befitting.

Google is a publically-traded company so like any other publically-traded company, it has a constitutionally-protected MANDATE to maximise profits for shareholders (in the strictest definition of amorality).

Now, you might think, "Hey, sure! But this doesn't rule out acts of generosity or benevolence!"

Actually, it does.

Unadulterated benevolence is NOT in a corporation's charter, nor can it be.

And if you're in denial about that point (and no, I'm far from some red-under-the-bed anti-capitalist), you should real Joel Bakhin's book "The Corporation" (the doco is also very good, but the book is better. Look it up on Amazon) -- especially the bit about Shell corporation and its policy on environmentalism. There's a really nice quote from the CEO (at the time the book was written), a man who was presented with a UN award for corporate environmental responsibility saying something to the effect of "Well, sure we do good, green, sustainable stuff in places, but only whilever there is no conflict of interest to our shareholders".

HIGHLY recommended reading.

So... as the author points out, given that Google is a publically-traded company, there is hardly likely to be any benevolence to their offering us such tantalisingly-convenient tools for free. Ain't free.

Some people have pointed out:

piwik.org

...which is what immediately came to mind when I read this article.

I'm actually still running GA on my little sites until I can find the time to swap them all out to Piwik (or the money to have someone do it; I'm still working part-time at this internet game. LOL!).

And:

statcounter.com

And:

Just your regular old Stats programs in your cPanel. I find that checking these logs once a month can yield some interesting stuff that doesn't seem to turn up in GA. If you've never logged in to the stats section of your cPanel, I recommend you do.

And here's another one I don't think anyone has mentioned yet:

woopra.com

(they have a plugin for WP, too)


I also like:

crazyegg.com

That's NOT free (and can be quite expensive), but provides some VERY useful visitor data, especially for landing pages.

----

I thought the comment above about installing GA and then noticing minimum bids jumping was interesting.

And Paul Hancox has been talking about not giving your split-testing data to Google, in precisely the fox/hen-house analogy presented in the article. I use the product he recommended and love it.

powersplittester.com


In a similar vein, re: Google Website Optimiser, as soon as I can afford it, I'll be upgrading to Jim Stone's Split-Test Accelerator.

splittestaccelerator.com

Sure it's expensive, but do I really want all my CONVERSION DATA -- including prices - as compared to how much I was bidding on Adwords -- being tracked? And then shared with third parties?

It's worth a grand to keep that from prying eyes if you ask me.

The section of the article about the Google rep and the *wink*wink* really made me sit up and pay attention. I didn't realise that "aggregate" data could, in fact, be so granular.

---

Good article and good discussion in the comments. I look forward to the follow-up, Reena.

Nice one Allan.

Regards,
TheNightOwl

P.S. I was sent here by Paul Myers. He has his own very interesting discussion about this topic which you can find here:

talkbiz.com/googleconspiracy.php


-------------------

P.P.S. Hmmm.... tried posting but got an error saying "Too many URLs in your post".

Obviously that's to stop the spammers.

So sorry, folks, but I'll have to remove or reformat the links, which means you'll need to cut and paste.

I should point out that I have no commercial interest in any of the sites I've linked to and none of the links are affiliate links.
TheNightOwl
Said this on September 27, 2009 At 12:27 am
P.S. Forgot to mention:

http://prosper.tracking202.com/apps/

Self-hosted click and conversion tracking for PPC (and other stuff with small tweaks) without using Google's conversion tracker for your PPC campaigns.

Installation and configuration videos here:

http://ad-trackr.com/Prosper202-Videos/

Enjoy!

(Again, not my stuff)
Said this on September 28, 2009 At 07:40 pm
Wow Reena,

As a beginner internet marketer. I am a bit nervous about all that crazy tracking stuff. I was recommended GA but now after reading your post, I will remove it. Is Statcounter.com a good alternative to GA? As I am a beginner, I don't have much money to spend on expensive analytics tool.

Thanks for the article!

Sincerely,
Adrian

[Hi Adrian, I haven't used StatsCounter myself but it's been mentioned a few times as an alternative in our comments so it'd be worth checking out. If you've got feedback on it once you do, please let us know. Reena]
Said this on September 29, 2009 At 12:45 am
Excellent post! It is really an eye opening post on how google really has come to a position where it can misuse a lot of sensitive data for its own advantage. As webmasters we have to much more vigilant on this issue and how much of our private data we share with google.
Said this on October 6, 2009 At 12:49 pm
Thanks! Your article for me is as a cool douche for a drunkard. My eyes have opened. Now I
Said this on October 12, 2009 At 10:27 am
Thank you for sharing this information.I am always wary of free stuff & am wary about Google too.I use Analytics now & am interested to learn about other tracking sytems. Please advise.
Said this on October 21, 2009 At 08:29 am
Don't do evil is the motto of Google. But who means to do evil on purpose?
Thank you for this great article. I will certainly be more aware of what I use the giant G for in the future - and spread the word. So much information should never be put in the hands of a stranger or in one place anyway.
Said this on December 10, 2009 At 11:02 am
A first class article Reena. Thanks.

An eye opener.

Ade
Said this on November 1, 2010 At 12:22 pm
Steve

There are alternative truly free analytics available so paying is not inevitable, it may have already been mentioned on this post somewhere but try http://piwik.org/ for a google free open source alternative, also for smaller trafficed sites you could try the Free Statcounter at statcounter.com which goes great insights
Said this on October 23, 2012 At 11:55 am

Reena, you were studying this aubject for a long time  to write this article, I really appreciate your insights. I think Google is in firm control of many aspects of our lives, it will be interesting to see what develops as time passes. Thanks for your research.

Kathleen
Said this on April 18, 2013 At 11:59 am

THANK YOU for saying it all so perfectly!

I have several websites and have refused to use any google tools purely due to women's intuition.

It all makes pefect sense. Australian government tried in impliment Fly Bys under a different guise back in the 80s to grab eveyone's personal info and spending habits. Another tool i don't use.

Now lookout Papal is on the hunt to detain all your customers info + credit card details under the Sell over the Phone title. The cost is more than what i currently pay the bank to have merchant terminal.

So who is next?? Guard your customers' info, let them know of any issues to maintain their trust, they are not stupid.

Once again GREAT POST thank you
(must get rid of my gmail accts cheers)

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