Google announced that it will shut down Universal Analytics in favor of GA4 Analytics. This is a huge blow for marketers that have relied on the current version for a long time. Is this the right time to switch, or is GA4 Analytics worth it?
In short: It will begin to sunset universal analytics on July 1, 2023. This means that Universal Analytics will stop processing new hits from this date. Universal Analytics 360 properties will still be available until October 1, 2023. After that, you can only access your data in Universal Analytics for six months.
Update: Google changed their deadlines for sunsetting Universal Analytics. As of January 2024, Universal Analytics has been deprecated but Universal Analytics 360 will still work until July 2024.
- Why does Google abandon Universal Analytics?
- How privacy friendly is GA4 really?
- Is switching from Universal Analytics to GA4 worth it?
- GDPR-compliant Google Analytics alternative
Why does Google abandon Universal Analytics?
In the announcement, Google states that GA4 is “the new standard” in today’s challenging business environment.
They point out that GA4...
- has the flexibility to measure different kinds of data
- delivers a strong analytics experience that’s designed for the future
- allows businesses to see unified customer journeys across their website and apps
All of the above seem to be driven by a changing ecosystem that calls for less privacy-invasive data collection methods.
Thereby, Google acknowledges that the way they track website visitors across the internet is not sustainable in the long term.
But is “the new standard” really up to standard regarding privacy-friendliness?
How privacy friendly is GA4 really?
There are a few angles we should touch upon to identify whether changing to GA4 is really a change for the better.
The first privacy-focused change is the anonymization of IP addresses by default.
In the Universal Analytics version, the user IP was collected as a whole. However, it is possible to anonymize IP-address in Universal Analytics as well by adding a tag. In GA4, the user IP is anonymized by default and cannot be changed back.
Well, this sounds like an improvement from a compliance perspective, but it is not really impactful. Anonymized IP addresses are still considered to be personal data according to GDPR. See our blog post on this topic.
Also, with GA4, Google does not allow you to control where your data is stored.
Use of Cookie banner
You need a cookie banner when installing non-functional cookies regardless of tracking IP addresses. Analytics cookies are non-functional cookies.
In their statement, Google pointed out that the measurement methodology is becoming obsolete (and I couldn’t agree more). They say that they won’t be relying exclusively on cookies.
Limited Data Storage
This is the first meaningful improvement. With GA4, the time you can store data has decreased from (up to) 64 months to 2 or 14 months (based on your preferences).
The limited timeframe pushes you to only store data for the period you are using it.
Deleting Individual User Data
In GA4, it's now possible to delete individual user data. In Universal Analytics, it was only possible to delete data within a set time range. This functionality is an improvement from a privacy perspective and makes it easier to respond to erasure requests under the GDPR.
What are meaningful privacy improvements?
|Use of Cookie Banner
|Deleting Individual User Data
|Limited Data Storage
In conclusion, you could say that GA4 is a bit more privacy-friendly than Universal Analytics. Still, in the end, it does not have any meaningful impact on GDPR compliance.
Therefore, Calling GA4 “the new standard” in a changing environment that calls for less privacy-invasive data-collecting measures is a bit far-fetched.
Is switching from Universal Analytics to GA4 worth it?
If you like it or not, the future of web analytics will be cookieless. Web Browsers like Firefox and Safari have already blocked third-party cookies; even Google Chrome announced it would be phasing out third-party cookies in 2023.
The world is heading in the right direction, and Google reluctantly moves with it, but it’s doing everything to keep its business model alive. Let's not forget that Google Analytics is only a part of the puzzle in Google's surveillance: the company still tracks you with your Google account, advertising trackers on Android devices, API cookies, and so on.
GDPR-compliant Google Analytics alternative
We have stripped the complexity from Google Analytics and designed a one-page dashboard that shows you everything you need to know.
We are cookieless by design and part of the future. Don’t take my word for it. Try for yourself.