What are analytics experts looking to in 2020 with data and privacy?
While researching the state of tracking and data privacy, I talked to many smart industry experts and asked several to share their advice for 2020. It’s one thing for me to offer their executive summary, it’s another to hear it directly from them.
Plus, these folks will be helpful as you look for executive buy-in. “But Simo Ahava and Abby Matchett said…”
What do the experts think?
This must begin with a huge thanks to the following smart folks who shared their time and talent with us as we, collectively, prepare for the upcoming year. One of the best things about web analytics and digital marketing communities is the perspective that we are all in it together. I would encourage you to follow these fearless leaders, contribute to the conversation with them, and don’t be afraid to reach out for guidance.
The changes aren’t over yet, and I would expect continual developments geared toward greater privacy and greater transparency for the foreseeable future.
My advice is to color inside the lines. Attempts to work around or even toe the line will find themselves having to reinvent their approach on a regular basis as new privacy protections take effect. Instead, privacy-first approaches will find themselves having to spend less effort to comply with the changing data landscape.
This is the time to build a solid and robust benchmark. Go through your data from the past two years and try to identify the rate of cookie loss. The longer the period of time you’re investigating the higher the cookie loss.
Then, segment your data by browser. Check especially the usage statistics for Firefox and Safari, as they are the most prominent tracking prevention browsers out there. Note that this isn’t an exact science. Especially Chromium-based browsers (Chrome, Edge, Brave) might make it difficult to distinguish one browser from the other.
Once you have a benchmark, you know the scope of the problem. You can apply these numbers to your analyses by introducing margins of error based on the cookie loss statistics and the amount of ad blocking in use. For example, if your data shows that 20% of all visitors to your site block Google Analytics, you can be less worried about the 10% of the discrepancy between transactions collected by GA vs. your backend.
I believe that the current quickening pace towards restrictions on storing and using data will continue – involving both tech providers and the judiciary. But local rulings will provide interpretations on application to specific cases pointing in different directions since there is a lack of understanding of the basic issues at stake in the technical underpinnings of modern websites. Rulings in some countries will point in one direction, and in another direction in another country. This will make the situation a difficult one to operate in for most companies.
While we are waiting for the ramifications of existing laws to unfold and while a deeper understanding of the basic issues at stake is not yet widely held by the people applying said laws – marketers have to adopt a dual strategy: First off keep to the strictest interpretation of the laws to mitigate risk and secondly work to create a language around use of data that showcases the major part of why sharing data is important: To improve our digital products. Current language lumps together all kinds of data collection in one big suspect pot – in large part due to specific types of tools, practices and methods that are unduly invasive or boundless. Marketers and their technical colleagues in analytics should work together to rescue all the valiant uses of data our modern world is built on.
I think 2020 is going to be the year of evaluation. Marketing strategies, data collection strategies, and platforming strategies are all going to be called into question as regulations tighten and browsers participate more actively in privacy regulation.
For marketers dealing with data loss and other privacy concerns, this change is an opportunity to re-evaluate their initiatives. This is a time to take stock of their programs, and identify their key objectives – ensuring that their marketing initiatives are aligning with the overall business objectives. Marketers will need to adapt to the changing environment, which really will be the new norm!
You are not an attorney so do not feel like you need to tell your bosses or clients what to do. Give them the breadth of options and the strengths and weaknesses of the approaches to how they deal with privacy, GDPR, web tracking implications, etc. Stay on top of what options there are, and how those options impact negatively or positively your ability to provide an ROI on analytics work. Offer to speak with their attorneys and provide them technical advice/guidance on what you can do, and how you can do it, but ultimately let the attorneys make the decisions on how they want to proceed.
As an aside, I see many consultants making recommendations of what to do, what not to do at conferences for instance, and at the end of the day a consultant should not be making a specific recommendation here, only providing options and advice on impact for their clients, rather than legal advice as in “this is what you need to do” because that liability for the decision lies at the feet of the consultant. It’s not our responsibility to determine what moral/ethical/legal direction their company can go, we should focus on what we can technically do, what the new limitations of browsers are, and then provide those options to our clients to make the decisions themselves, while also being aware of what the laws are, and ultimately doing our best to not break any laws knowingly ourselves even at the direction of our clients.