Earlier this year, Google announced that they were working on a tool that would allow users to opt out of being tracked by Google Analytics. The browser plug-in recently arrived, and reactions have -- understandably -- been mixed. The Onion's visual analysis though, has by far stolen the show.
Some Background: The Persistent Cookie
Google Analytics, like many analytics systems, is just as well-known for using persistent cookies as the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is for prohibiting them. These cookies live on a computer's hard drive until manually erased (or until they expire) and enable websites to remember a visitor's information and settings when they revisit. While resulting in faster and more convenient access, this type of cookie is also ostensibly the reason behind privacy backlash from figures such as Moxie Marlinspike.
But, as Internet technology changes, the benefits of persistent cookies are becoming increasingly undeniable. As a result, the re-examination of the prohibition of persistent cookies as part of the Open Government Initiative is happening as we speak. Unfortunately, a final decision is taking longer than expected.
“One of the biggest issues we are going to confront as a society is digital privacy and we want to make sure that we are doing so in a responsible way and not making any rash decisions,” said Vivek Kundra, the U.S. government's Chief Information Officer.
Meanwhile, Google serves on the Security and Privacy Advisory Board (ISPAB) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
As Phil Kemelor recently pointed out, the company has a rapidly spreading footprint within the Federal Government for services and applications. "I don't think it's a coincidence that they announced Google Analytics availability on the GSA schedule, nor that they are working on opt-out options," he said. "Although the company has pointed out to me that opt-out will also help them do business in other parts of the world where privacy is a big issue."
The Decline of Accurate Analytics
While Google's motives appear to be about compliance, Kemelor posed an interesting question:
Why is downloading a plug-in considered any easier than disabling cookies from within your browser options? Or adding websites to your exclusion lists?
What it comes down to is Google has chosen to offer what Kemelor calls a "nuclear" option instead of promoting something less assertive. Omniture (news, site), for example, provides a site-specific opt-out service.
Even if a browser plug-in is a good answer, must it be an all or nothing approach? For an alternative take on opting out of components of the modern Internet, we need not look further than the popular Adblock Plus add-on for Firefox. This highly configurable piece of software empowers users to remove online advertising from their web experience. It is, you might say, more a precision guided weapon than a full nuclear assault.
Why can't Google be about options in this context -- especially considering the fact that they are currently the largest Web analytics service provider in the world?
A recent study of 400,000 public domains -- including the top 100 most popular websites -- found that Google Analytics was used by more than 71% of of them. Given this, and our own deductions, we say big boom is too much.
But forget what we say. The Onion, in all their wisdom, have done a far better job of illustrating the the insanity of the nuclear option: