Google Analytics To Stop Logging IP Addresses And Sunset Old Versions In Privacy Standards Overhaul

Major changes are coming to Google Analytics as the company navigates higher consumer privacy standards and increasingly complex international privacy laws.

For one, Universal Analytics (UA), the web-based legacy analytics product, is on the way out, and will be shuttered entirely by July 2023, the company announced on Wednesday.

All analytics customers will transition to Google Analytics 4 (GA4), which accommodates both web and app data collection and comes with built-in privacy features, not to mention a bevy of integrations across the Google portfolio, with metrics and features tied to YouTube, Search and the Google Cloud Platform.

Getting rid of UA is akin to Google’s decision last year to ditch last-click attribution in favor of data-driven attribution – which relies on modeled conversions, not deterministic user-level conversions – as its default metric. Which is to say, it’s about time Google cleared out the cobwebs of legacy digital advertising products.

But some of today’s news is surprising and will mean major changes for some digital media and advertisers.

The most consequential change: Google Analytics will no longer log or store IP address information.

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.

Welcome to the new Google, featuring Google.

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