German Govt. Says Google Analytics Now Verboten

google-analytics-logoIn a move that could harm its country’s own businesses, Germany is targeting Google on privacy issues again — this time over Google Analytics.

German privacy officials are concerned that Google Analytics tracks web users’ IP addresses, and that could violate an individual’s privacy. According to German news site The Local, Johannes Caspar, data protection commissioner in Hamburg, told a German newspaper that tracking IP addresses of web users should be illegal. Since it’s not, German officials are threatening to levy a “steep fine” against German companies that continue to use Google Analytics.

(The previous paragraph has been edited, based on reader corrections, to reflect that Caspar is not the German data protection commissioner, but holds that role in the federal state of Hamburg.)

Caspar says he’s been talking to Google about this issue since November 2009, and tells the paper that those talks have now broken off. A Google spokesperson told the German paper that it wasn’t aware the talks had ended. In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, Google says Analytics isn’t breaking any laws:

Google Analytics complies with European data protection laws and is used by other European data protection authorities on their own websites.

Last May, Google issued a browser plugin that lets users opt-out of Google Analytics tracking. But Caspar told the German paper that the plugin isn’t adequate because it doesn’t work for Safari and Opera browser users.

“Some 10 percent of German internet users are left out of the opt-out option,” Caspar said.

This isn’t the first time German officials have fought Google on privacy issues. They’re still investigating Google’s collection of personal data over WiFi networks (see our Google Maps Privacy: The Street View & Wifi Scorecard), and forced Google to let residents opt-out of Street View before that service launched in Germany.

(Thanks to Greg Sterling for assistance.)

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Google: Analytics | Google: Legal | Google: Outside US | Legal: Privacy | Top News

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • http://www.villageadsseo.com Tim Biden

    So what analytics software can Germans use? Wouldn’t they all break the law by tracking web users’ IP addresses?

  • http://docsheldon.com Doc Sheldon

    Seems bit over-anal-ytical to me!

  • http://www.digitaltimes.it Stefano Eligio

    Ahahahh… are you kidding? MMM I’m sure that some German companie won’t be happy…

  • Yves

    I am from germany. Our government is full of idiots who print out their emails because they dont know how to use the internet. This is why such laws come out.

    Just recently a law thankfully didnt get through that should force all website owners to make age checks on their websites and if you dont your website needs to be offline when kids are awake.

    In germany you can be sued for using the i like button from facebook on your website. No joke.

    I could go on and on. Never live in germany if you are doing online marketing

  • usa

    What I thought would be the issue was that Google owns the data it collects for companies, so that it would be illegal for Google to collect the data, but not the comapnies. This would mean that any analytics company is illegal in Germany.

    Tracking IP adresses isnt really that big a thing for analytics, since 95% of all traffic is tracked through cookies. Are they looking into that too??

  • http://andrescholten.nl André Scholten

    What about the recently launched anonimyzeIp function for Google Analytics? With that function the last octet of an IP address isn’t stored by Google. And it’s never traceable to a specific person…

  • http://www.themenrelevant.de Anwar Ayad

    Hi

    this a german commenting. Well to be honest the situation webanalytics software is kind of difficult. I would not go so far and call the responsible politicians a bunch of silly folks but in fact they are way behind regarding this aspect.

    Main problem ist not Google Analytics but the way the laws regarding data protection are composed. No one answered the question here in Germany if an IP adress is really related to an individual person or not.

    If yes – other severe problems will appear for the german online marketing industry :-)

    If not – nearly everything is fine.

    Additionally there is the fear of th possibilities of Google to combine user data, building user profiles etc.

    Due to the fact that there is no clear understanding the courts will have to decide.

    Until a high tribunal hasn’t delivered an exemplary judgement the use of Google Analytics seems to be like like jumping into the shark tank with a bloody lamb leg in your hands (also pork or beef possible).

    I am a big fan of GA but on the other hand there are some really good alternative solutions regarding visitor tracking. At least so far. If the authority will wipe out GA they will surely find a new victim among the other tools.

    Just my 2cents and I am happy that we can make the world laugh on German Angst :-)

    Regards

    Anwar

  • http://venyoo.de Daniel Basedow

    @André Scholten: anonimyzeIp is not sufficient because the full IP address is known to Google and they are not audited by German data protection officials.

    The december Webmontag in Hamburg dealt almost exclusively with the legality of GA. Apparently the only legal option you have is to use etracker. I haven’t used etracker in a while but i doubt they have any AdSense/AdWords integration.

    If your site is small enough you could use piwik, but for a business that would be absolutely insane.

    I hate our government :(((

  • sheila

    (1) Johannes Caspar ist just an official with its own opinion – it’s not the German government

    (2) There is some mockery about Johannes Caspar now because his own web site
    http://www.datenschutz-hamburg.de seems to use tracking technologies which don’t agree with his own privacy requirements: http://www.internet-law.de/2011/01/website-des-hamburger-datenschutzbeauftragten-selbst-nicht-datenschutzkonform.html

    WHO CAN STOP THAT MAN???

  • http://econtrolling.de Markus Vollmert

    Hi, another German comment:

    Johannes Caspar is *not* Germany’s data protection commissioner but he is the German data protection commissioners of *Hamburg*, which is a federal state. We have a commissioner for the federal states (not sure for all), so there are up to 16.

    So Mr. Caspar is of course an important voice in the discussion but he is *not* the German government. He can try to take steps against companys/websites in Hamburg who are using Google Analytics.

    From time to time the federal commissioners are discussing such issues in the Düsseldorf Kreis and they made a requirement list last may for web analytics in general.

    More on the issue (in german): http://www.econtrolling.de/datenschutz-google-analytics/

  • http://blog.jeremydnelson.com Jeremy Nelson

    Really, Germany needs to consider that this would be a far reaching decision that affects German competitiveness in international commerce. This kind of thinking is giving them a competitive disadvantage.

  • Matt McGee

    Thanks for the comments and particularly the corrections on Caspar’s title and role. I’ve updated the story.

  • http://www.pagezero.com Andrew Goodman

    So if Google releases the opt-out plug-in for Safari and Opera, they are in compliance, right? Seems like this may be a non-story.

  • lestarte

    Mmmh, from another german commentor.
    Am I the only one who thinks, that this sentence

    “Johannes Caspar, data protection commissioner in Hamburg, told a German newspaper that tracking IP addresses of web users should be illegal. Since it’s not, German officials are threatening to levy a “steep fine” against German companies that continue to use Google Analytics.”

    doesn’t make any sense?
    Please correct me if I’m wrong…
    Thanks,
    Oliver

  • http://www.awesem.co.uk ralph

    @Daniel Basedow – “Apparently the only legal option you have is to use etracker”

    Funnily enough eTracker is a Hamburg based company, maybe Herr Casper is trying to push some local business there :)

    Seriously, what is going to happen? Millions of sites are using Analytics in Germany so sending all of them a warning letter is just not feasible and cost a decent amount of tax payers money. Google on the other hand cannot afford Analytics to be closed down in Germany so they’ll sort out the opt-out functionality.

    I do however agree, the whole discussion is pathetic.

  • http://mohanarun.com L. Mohan Arun

    This is funny, hypocrisy at best, coming from the likes of Germany, known for its Stasi (citizens spying on fellow citizens).

  • lestarte

    @L. Mohan:
    Yeah, “we germans” are all the same and it is still 1940…
    *sigh*

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