Written by Esther Kao
If you’ve spent any time on the Internet, you’ve probably encountered something like this:
Wondering why the shoes you contemplated buying online seem to follow you in ads on every site you visit thereafter? The answer is simple: cookies.
So what is a cookie?
A “cookie” is a packet of data that your browser receives from a website’s server. Each time you access the same website’s server, the browser returns the cookie to that server, which can provide information about your browsing activity, authenticate whether or not you are logged in, and more.
Cookies tell companies a lot about what you like and don’t like. At best, they help customize and improve your web-browsing experience. At worst, they lead to creepy user experience and tell companies things that you never approved of them knowing.
We were putting the finishing touches on our new website’s cookie popup when we stopped and asked ourselves, what would it look like if we, as marketers, respected our visitors’ privacy?
It was time, we thought, to break up with Google Analytics.
Why Google Analytics had to go
If you’re a digital marketer, you’re probably well acquainted with Google Analytics. Marketers love this tool: it’s free, it saves you endless effort by automatically compiling the data it collects, it’s easily integratable with websites — the list goes on.
What we didn’t like was that Google Analytics failed to provide an easy way for people to opt out. Instead of allowing people to turn cookies off, Google Analytics forces the person being tracked to take matters into their own hands. To turn off tracking, they would either have to download the official Google Analytics Opt-Out Extension — which, by the way, doesn’t prevent Google from knowing which website you’re visiting — or block the service using alternative methods like a firewall or a script blocker.
To make matters worse, Google has access to any information collected through Google Analytics. Sure, the company has claimed that they do not use Google Analytics data for search ranking purposes, but this doesn’t change the fact that every time a visitor wandered onto our site, Google would know.
This wasn’t right. As much as we wanted to optimize people’s experience on our site, we couldn’t justify using a tool that blatantly disregarded basic rules of consent. After discussing it amongst ourselves, we decided that we would seek out an alternative option.
Matomo, a web analytics software that respects people’s privacy
Our search for an analytics tool that valued people led us to Matomo (originally Piwik). Founded in 2007, Matomo is the Japanese word for honesty, and was inspired by the need for a privacy-conscious, people-centric alternative to Google Analytics. It’s an open-source web analytics platform used on over 1.4 million websites worldwide.
We loved Matomo because unlike Google Analytics, Matomo makes it easy for website visitors to opt out of being tracked. Furthermore, should someone give their consent, Matomo ensures that no one except for the website owner can access this information. With Matomo, we could keep our visitors’ data 100% private from third-party service providers like Google.
Though we were initially fearful that leaving Google Analytics might force us to sacrifice a better web experience, we’ve managed to emerge fully intact. Thanks to the existence of software like Matomo, we were able to implement a solution that lets us gather important insights while still treating people like people.
A recent UC Berkeley graduate, Esther Kao has always liked mashing together words and calling it writing. She currently works as a content strategist at The @ Company, a builder of privacy-centric web technology powering the future of the Internet. Learn more about The @ Company’s mission on our website.