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Navigating Privacy Controls with Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

February 2, 2024 , By Adnan Sosic, Director of Marketing Analytics

In recent years, there has been a growing focus on privacy, with a number of new regulations being implemented worldwide. These regulations have made it more challenging for education institutions to collect and use data and have forced them to adapt their data collection and analytics practices.

Educational institutions are not immune to the sweeping changes in data privacy regulations. With evolving rules and heightened scrutiny, the landscape has become more complex. Compliance is no longer an option; it’s imperative.

Google Analytics has long been a go-to platform for measuring website performance and user engagement. However, with the introduction of Google Analytics 4 (GA4), a new era of data analysis and insights has arrived.

GA4 is a new version of Google’s popular analytics platform that has been designed with privacy in mind. GA4 offers a number of controls that can help colleges and universities comply with privacy regulations, while still providing valuable insights into user behavior.

WATCH TO LEARN MORE ABOUT GOOGLE ANALYTICS 4 MIGRATION

These privacy controls can be categorized into two types: “hands-off” and “hands-on.” Hand-off controls have no implementation impact on site owners. However, data owners are responsible for following best practices in data protection and complying with relevant data protection regulations.

Hands-on controls offer more flexibility and allow colleges and universities to tailor the data collection and analysis to their specific needs.

Hands-Off Privacy Controls

Data minimisation

GA4 introduces the concept of data minimization by enabling colleges and universities to collect only the data that they need. This feature supports compliance with laws that mandate the collection of data strictly for specific purposes.

Data minimization in GA4 is achieved through an event-based data model. Each event contains only the essential data required to describe the event, reducing the overall amount of data collected and stored. This approach prioritizes user privacy by minimizing unnecessary data collection.

Additionally, GA4 implements data minimization by reducing the retention period. Unlike Universal Analytics where data could be set to never expire, GA4 imposes limitations on data retention. The specifics of the retention period will be further explored in the hands-on section below.

Data encryption

GA4 prioritizes data security by implementing encryption measures for both data in transit and at rest. This ensures that your data is safeguarded from unauthorized access and maintains its confidentiality throughout its journey and storage.

  • In-Transit Encryption: GA4 utilizes secure communication protocols like HTTPS to encrypt data during transmission between users’ browsers or apps and the GA4 servers. This encryption prevents any unauthorized access, interception, or tampering of the data while it is being transferred.
  • Data Storage Encryption: Industry-standard encryption algorithms are used to encrypt data stored on GA4’s servers or data centers, ensuring that even if unauthorized access occurs, the stored data remains secure and indecipherable.

Hands-On Privacy Controls

User consent

The consent mode in Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is a valuable feature that assists colleges and universities in managing user consent for data collection. In the face of growing privacy concerns and regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), obtaining user consent has become crucial for colleges and universities

GA4’s consent mode enables colleges and universities to implement user consent mechanisms, ensuring compliance with privacy regulations. It empowers colleges and universities to acquire explicit consent from users before collecting their data, promoting transparency and user control over data collection practices. It’s important to note that the consent mode is not a standalone consent management platform but rather an add-on to facilitate compliance.

To obtain user consent, colleges and universities must first create a consent policy within their consent management platform. The consent policy must be clear and concise, and it must explain to users what data will be collected, how it will be used, and how users can withdraw their consent.

Data deletion

Data deletion in GA4 involves removing data from the GA4 platform. When data is deleted, event parameters may be replaced with “(data deleted)” while still being counted in overall metrics.

It’s important to understand that once data is deleted from GA4, it cannot be restored. Therefore, exercise caution and only delete data if you are certain that it is no longer needed.

Data retention

Data retention controls in GA4 allow you to determine the duration for which your data is stored in GA4. These controls apply to user-level and event-level data associated with cookies, user-identifiers, and advertising identifiers. Most standard reporting, which relies on aggregated data, is not affected by these controls.

Once the retention period ends, data is automatically deleted on a monthly basis. If you decrease the retention period, any affected data will be deleted during the next monthly process. However, increasing the retention period does not impact previously collected data.

Google Signals

Google Signals is a feature in Google Analytics 4 that enables the collection of data from signed-in users who have consented to personalized ads.

Google Signals collects session, device, and location data anonymously from various sources, including Gmail, YouTube, and Google partner sites.

Data portability

GA4 empowers colleges and universities to export their data to external platforms or data warehouses, providing them with control over their data and enabling compliance.

Data portability allows colleges and universities to seamlessly transfer their data to external tools or platforms for various purposes, such as further analysis, integration with other systems, or creating backups. It proves particularly valuable when combining data from multiple sources or migrating to different analytics platforms, enabling you to leverage data beyond the confines of the GA4 interface.

By offering data export capabilities, colleges and universities can ensure transparency, accountability, and compliance with data protection regulations. They can effectively respond to user requests for data access or deletion, as mandated by regulations like GDPR and CCPA.

Embracing GA4 for Privacy-Centric Analytics

As privacy regulations continue to evolve and become more stringent, educational institutions are recognizing the need to adapt their data collection and analytics practices. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) has emerged as a privacy-centric analytics platform, offering controls that help colleges and universities comply with privacy regulations while still providing valuable insights into user behavior.

Companies, including search engines like Google, are taking privacy regulations seriously and implementing changes to protect user privacy. For instance, Apple’s App Tracking Transparency framework has inspired search engines to enhance user privacy in search results and advertising practices. By implementing privacy-centric controls and complying with regulations, companies can build trust with users, ensure transparency, and adapt to the evolving privacy landscape.

The future of educational data strategy extends far beyond mere compliance. At EAB, we are dedicated to supporting educational institutions on this transformative journey. Our team of seasoned experts is poised to assist you in harnessing the true power of GA4 within your web content strategy.

Let us demonstrate how to maximize the wealth of data insights at your disposal while fostering trust, championing transparency, and propelling your institutions’ growth. Take the first step towards this data-driven future by connecting with an EAB Agency expert using the form below.

Adnan Sosic

Adnan Sosic

Adnan is a highly accomplished professional with a strong background in marketing analytics, currently holding the position of Director of Marketing Analytics at EAB. Throughout his career, Adnan has demonstrated a remarkable ability to leverage data-driven insights to guide organizations in making well-informed decisions and achieving their strategic objectives. Throughout his career, Adnan has amassed a wealth of experience that has made him an invaluable asset in the field of marketing analytics. He has played a pivotal role in shaping the analytics landscape, both within his current role at EAB and during his tenure at an agency, where he led the establishment of the agency's first data and analytics department. Adnan's achievements include implementing robust data management practices, seamlessly integrating data and analytics into cross-functional teams, and spearheading the development of data-driven solutions that have significantly enhanced his organization's competitive edge. Adnan's unwavering commitment to excellence, his ability to ask incisive questions, his talent for solving complex problems, and his knack for building strong relationships have consistently set him apart as a standout professional. His career journey is a testament to his passion for leveraging the power of data to help organizations thrive in today's data-centric business landscape.