It’s now official, Universal Analytics will cease to operate by July 2023.
Major changes are coming for Google Analytics as the company faces stricter consumer privacy standards and increasingly complex international privacy laws.
End of Universal Analytics
First, Universal Analytics (UA), the former web-based analytics product, is being phased out and will be shut down entirely by July 2023, the company announced Wednesday. All analytics customers will switch to Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
GA4 collects data across the web and apps and has built-in privacy features, not to mention a host of integrations across Google’s portfolio, with metrics and features related to YouTube, Search and the Google Cloud Platform.
The removal of Universal Analytics is comparable to Google’s decision last year to abandon last-click attribution in favor of data-driven attribution, which relies on modeled conversions, not deterministic user-level conversions, as the default metric. In other words, it’s high time Google got rid of its old ad products.
But some of today’s news is surprising and will lead to major changes for some digital players and advertisers.
The biggest change: Google Analytics will no longer record or store IP address information. Unlike previous versions of Google Analytics, GA4 has only ever used anonymous IP addresses.
“Now we’re taking it a step further and removing IP addresses altogether,” says Russ Ketchum, Google Analytics product manager, in an email to AdExchanger.
GA4 was designed after the GDPR went into effect for a digital media landscape with much stricter privacy standards. Part of that reengineering for privacy requires the removal of the IP address as a tracking and analytics mechanism.
However, Ketchum also stated that the company does not record IP addresses “because we no longer need them.”
How do you replace IP addresses?
What replaces such a strong signal for location and identity? Google has been incorporating more modeled data into its analytics, such as data-driven attribution, which is natively integrated into GA4. Google also infers approximate location data because it records the country or market where a user is browsing.
So there are signals even without the individual’s IP address. GA4 customers still need to know 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 the legal battle over IP addresses
In addition to the issue of user privacy, Google Analytics has come under fire in EU countries because the Schrems II ruling last year prohibits the sharing of Europeans’ data with U.S. servers, not because of consumer privacy concerns, but because of NSA surveillance practices.
Google may be hoping that localizing the visibility of IP addresses and preventing data from leaving a country will relieve pressure on Google Analytics in the EU, many national regulators in the EU have banned its use outright. Schrems II does not focus on IP addresses, but IPs are the specific pieces of personal information that EU citizens (including Max Schrems) have used to sue Google Analytics in all EU countries.
GA4 will also have new controls at the national level, so that data collection can be refined by market or jurisdiction of a law.
Ketchum said that with data-driven attribution modeling and other GA4 upgrades, the loss of IP addresses “will not impact the quality of customer reporting.”
Google is giving it some time
Google is giving brands more than a year to move from UA to GA4 so advertisers can evaluate the data sets simultaneously, Ketchum said.
“We’ve learned from these past migrations that clients are most successful when they have long periods of overlapping data.
The majority of GA4 customers have been in a “dual configuration” state for more than a year, he added. Even latecomers will have plenty of time to familiarize themselves with the new analysis reports.
“That way, they can gain confidence in the new data, become comfortable with comparing it to the past, better understand the intentional differences, and begin to rely on the new version when it makes sense,” he said.
And GA4 sweetens the pill with some additional benefits.
And by “perks,” that means Google integrations instead.
There’s native data-driven attribution integration, of course. GA4 also integrates directly with BigQuery, the made-in-Google Cloud product, which is new for GA4.
One metric exclusive to GA4 is YouTube Engaged Views. With UA and previous versions of Google Analytics, YouTube measurement was limited to page views and session data, when someone starts and stops a video, for example, or when multiple videos are viewed one after another.
“In Google Analytics 4, those are just two of dozens of events that can be automatically collected,” Ketchum says, including purchases, user scrolling, button clicks, external links, form submissions and video plays, as well as client-created metrics.
These metrics and integrations were previously only available to enterprise customers who paid a premium price. Now they are built into the analytics for all advertisers.
And since GA4 is inherently web and app, whereas UA was web-only, it also comes with integrations with Firebase, Google’s app development kit, the Google Play Store and AdMob, Google’s in-app advertising network.
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