Unlike previous versions of Google Analytics, GA4 only ever used anonymized IP addresses.
“Now, we’re going even further and removing IP addresses altogether,” Google Analytics product director Russ Ketchum tells AdExchanger in an email.
GA4 was built post-GDPR for a digital media landscape with much higher privacy standards. Part of that re-engineering for privacy requires removing the IP address as a mechanism for tracking and analytics.
Though Ketchum also said the company isn’t logging IPs “because we don’t need to anymore.”
Filling the IP address hole
What replaces such a strong signal for location and identity? Google has incorporated more modeled data into its analytics, such as data-driven attribution, which is natively integrated into GA4. Google also infers the approximate location data because it registers the country or market where a user is browsing.
So there are some signals, even without the individual’s IP address. GA4 customers still need to tell whether a web or app visitor is in one country or another – which could be important when there are different standards for data collection or ad targeting.
Losing legal battle for the IP address
Aside from the user privacy angle, Google Analytics is under fire in EU countries because the Schrems II ruling from last year prohibits Europeans’ data from being shared to US servers – not for consumer privacy issues, but because of NSA surveillance practices.
Google may hope that localizing IP address visibility and preventing the data from leaving a country will relieve the pressure on Google Analytics in the EU – many EU nation regulators have outright banned its use. The Schrems II law doesn’t focus on IP addresses, but IPs are the specific pieces of personal information that EU citizens (namely, Max Schrems) have used to bring suits against Google Analytics in every EU country.
GA4 will also have new country-level controls, so data collection can be fine-tuned by market or jurisdiction of a law.
Ketchum said that with data-driven attribution modeling built in and other GA4 upgrades, the loss of IP addresses “won’t impact the quality of customers’ reports.”
IP address expiration date
Google is leaving more than a year for brands to transition from UA to GA4 so advertisers can evaluate the data sets simultaneously, Ketchum said.
“We learned from these past migrations that customers are most successful when they have long periods of overlapping data,” he wrote AdExchanger.
The majority of GA4 customers have been in a “dual setup” state for more than a year, he said. Even the laggards will have plenty of time to get comfortable with the new analytics reports.
“That way, they can gain confidence in the new data, develop a comfort level with how it compares to the past, better understand the intentional differences, and can start relying on the new version when it makes sense,” he said.
And GA4 is sweetening the pill with some additional benefits.
And by “benefits,” I mean Google integrations.
There’s the native data-driven attribution integration, of course. GA4 also integrates directly with BigQuery, the Google cloud data warehouse product, which is new to GA4.
One metric exclusive to GA4 is YouTube Engaged Views. With UA and previous analytics versions, YouTube measurement was limited to page views and session data, when someone starts and stops a video, say, or when multiple videos are viewed one after another.
“In Google Analytics 4 these are just two of the dozens of events that can be automatically collected,” Ketchum said, including purchases, user scrolling, button clicks, external links, forms submissions and video plays, as well as metrics created by the customer.
Those metrics and integrations were formerly only available to high-paying enterprise customers. Now they’re embedded in analytics for all advertisers.
And since GA4 is inherently web-and-app, whereas UA was all about the web, it also comes with integrations with the Google app developer toolkit Firebase, the Google Play Store and AdMob, Google’s in-app advertising network.
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