Use Google Analytics, go to jail

OK, so maybe you won't actually go to jail. But if you use Google Analytics in Germany, you may be facing a "stiff fine."
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

OK, so maybe you won't actually go to jail. But if you use Google Analytics in Germany, you may be facing a "stiff fine," according to Johannes Caspar, commissioner for data protection in Hamburg.

Here's the thing. Germany is very particular about what sorts of user-level access information Web site operators can share, store, or disclose. Apparently, in Germany, if you surf those "naughty" sites, it's really none of anyone's business, to the point where there are actual, legal protections in place to give real teeth to privacy policies and the like.

Now, we are talking Germany here, so the irony is evident. The Germans have always had such great respect for personal liberty and privacy. Heh! But still, it's a story...over-compensating for past crimes against humanity notwithstanding.

Like Bundesrepublik Deutschland, I was originally distrustful of das Google Analytics. I wasn't thrilled with how difficult it was to track RSS feeds along with Web feeds, I didn't like how the traffic results didn't exactly match my Apache log file results, and I felt vaguely uneasy about Google knowing all that information about my Web sites.

But over time, I was assimilated.

Aside: did you know there's a village called "Borg" in Saarland, Germany? Even more geekerly, it's in the municipality of Perl. Yeah, so either Germany has geek stuff in its DNA or we've been stealing cool names from them for years. Lord, I love me some Wikipedia!

Anyway, like I said, over time I discovered resistance was futile. First, my Apache log files grew to an unmanageable size and flinging them from drive to drive for post-processing grew to be tedious, at best. Then, more and more of the sites and clients I worked with had been assimilated into the Analytics collective. And, finally, it became clear that Google Analytics was just too darned useful to ignore.

For example, while it's pretty cool to know that 0.81% of you are reading this article from Germany, what's even more cool is that with a simple click of my mouse, I can see where, exactly, you're reading from while you're in Germany.

I can also tell some more interesting stuff. For example, I can -- at a glance -- see that about 0.25% are reading this article directly from the U.S. Department of Defense's Network Information Center. I can see that 0.09% are reading from the Department of Veteran's Affairs, that defense contractors Raytheon, Boeing, and Northrup are all active readers.

I can also tell that more than 60% of mobile readers are reading this site on their iPads and another 23% are reading from their iPhones (all probably waiting for me to mock Apple so they can fire up their tiny fingers and comment in TalkBack).

I can even tell just how many of you come back again and again and again to read this particular blog (it's a disturbing, yet gratifyingly high percentage of you).

From the perspective of understanding our readers, this is wonderful stuff. It's also what's got the Germans' lederhosen in a twist.

According to The Local (Germany's News in English), it's this level of detailed analytics that's got Caspar feeling so unfriendly. In order for Google Analytics to be able to tell you information about repeat visits, where readers are visiting from, and the like, the IP address of Web site visits must be recorded.

Google has apparently been doing its best to sanitize IP addresses for your protection, but there are some conflicts because Safari and Opera can't be IP-squelched. According to Caspar, Google still collects IP addresses, even for those who don't opt out.

All of this has apparently angered Caspar so much, he's turned white as a sheet. He and his own "collective of state-level data protection officials, known as the Düsseldorfer Kreis, plan to find a way to act against companies that continue to use Google Analytics."

So there you go. Use Google Analytics in Germany and you might face a "stiff fine."

Speaking of "stiff," Germany's a rather interesting place. Also running at the same time in The Local was an article about prostitution in Germany, which is legal there. In an effort to diversify, some German prostitutes are providing specialized services, including -- and I must quote -- "provide sex for seniors in retirement homes".

Still quoting from The Local, "One director of a Berlin retirement home told the paper she would like to create a 'room for intimate encounters,' but is still in discussions with the religious organisation behind the operation."

Germany. You just can't make this stuff up! Ya!

Well, at least we now know why Johannes Caspar doesn't want Google Analytics tracking everyone's online actions. Yes, a country where prostitution is legal and looking for ways to extend their service offerings is doing its best to let its citizens hide their online tracks. Do you see a connection? Gotta wonder what skeletons Caspar has been hiding in his closet, eh?

Seriously, in Germany, Google Analytics might be made illegal, but prostitution is legal? What is this world coming to? Look, it's not the legality or even the morality (what does that even mean?) of the German sex trade I'm questioning here, it's the restriction of a tool as useful as Google Analytics. People should be free to practice their kinks in safety, whether they be sexual or of the data analysis variety.

By the way, Google Germany’s Per Meyerdierks disagrees with Caspar. He says Google's met both Germany's and EU privacy standards since the first version of Google Analytics was made available.

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