Google Analytics

Custom Dimensions and GDPR Compliance in GA4: What You Need to Know

Privacy features, Data Storage, & More in GA4 to Comply with the GDPR and Protect Your Business

As global regulations on data privacy and protection grow, businesses must be proactive in order to avoid costly penalties and damage to their reputations. With Google Analytics 4 (GA4), they can automate the process of protecting and complying with their data.

Due to the increasing number of regulations on data privacy, many companies are now taking the necessary steps to protect their customers' information. In Europe, for instance, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) imposes strict penalties on breaches.

As the number of countries and states implementing regulations and penalties on data privacy continues to increase, businesses must adopt the correct practices.

GA4 aims to provide users with a more privacy friendly experience. It collects data about their activities across various websites and apps. GA4 prioritizes privacy, which is no surprise since its previous versions failed to meet the strict requirements of modern legislation.

This update brings with it several new features and functions designed to help users comply with the latest privacy legislation. These new features are designed to help users keep up with the changes in the data privacy landscape and provide them with more control over their personal information.

Usage of GA4

GA4 is a marketing platform that aims to help businesses make informed decisions regarding their marketing efforts while ensuring their privacy and data are protected. It also offers users cross-platform tracking, which allows them to access various digital products.

Through the use of GA4, users can be tracked across different devices and sessions, and it can collect more interactions than UA. This method allows businesses to gain a deeper understanding of how their customers interact with their various touchpoints.

GA4 also allows users to track their offline activities by uploading CSV files. This method allows them to collect data from various offline sources, such as loyalty cards and POS. By combining this with online information, businesses can gain a deeper understanding about their customers.

Privacy Features Offered by GA4

Anonymous IP addresses 

GA4 automatically recognizes the addresses of users who are connected to the Internet. This feature, known as default IP anonymization, is better than Universal Analytics' approach, which did not anonymize addresses.

For instance, if a business uses GA4, it can track the number of people who visit its website. With the default anonymization enabled, Google can't identify the individuals who visited the site multiple times.

Shorter rates of data retention 

Due to the nature of data breaches and leaks, it is very important that organizations have the necessary tools and resources to manage their data. With GA4, they can keep their users' data for up to 14 months. This is compared to 26 months with Universal Analytics.

Server location

Having the right server location is very important for businesses that operate in regions with strict privacy laws. With the help of GA4, you can choose whether to store your data in the US or Europe. For instance, if you own an e-commerce site in Germany, then you would be following the GDPR, which is a standard that governs the protection of personal data.

Personal data of users is erased 

In order to comply with the requirements of the GDPR, which protects the privacy of individuals, GA4 allows users to manually remove their individual data. This process can be performed through the settings section.

Consent Mode in GA4

Consent mode recovers 70% of ad-click-to-conversion journeys lost due to user consent choices
Google's consent mode is used to address the data losses that it has experienced due to the implementation of various privacy laws, such as the GDPR. Image Courtesy of Google Blog

This feature can be used with third-party tools or customized consent management platforms. For instance, in Universal Analytics, it avoids using cookies when users don't want to be tracked. On the other hand, in GA4, it uses an AI-based method to analyze and estimate the lost conversions.

Although it's helpful to replace cookies with cookieless ping, this method can still expose users' privacy concerns. As indicated by Google, it will continue to collect data without their permission. This includes the user's IP address, as well as other unique identifiers such as their device and transaction details. Only users can opt out of this process as it involves collecting personal information.

Server-Side Tagging

A server-side tag is a tool that enables the management and deployment of Google tags on a server. It allows organizations to comply with various data privacy regulations.

With server-side tags, businesses can control how Google measures their activities based on their consent for analytics or ad storage.

For instance, an EU company may want to collect data about its customers for advertising. With the right consent, they can configure the behavior of Google's ad storage tools.

IP Address Settings 

When GA4 collects location data from an IP address, it discards the full address. Businesses can prevent it from reading the full IP address by redacting the address using the server tag known as GA4.

By redacting the server-side IP addresses before GA4, reports won't automatically store location data, which helps businesses comply with the regulations.

If you need to keep the IP address for a certain purpose, such as fraud detection or analytics, you should only collect it. You can then redact the address if you don't need it. To ensure that the settings meet your requirements, review them regularly.

Personally Identifiable Information (PII) in Google Analytics 

In order to comply with the latest privacy laws, Google prohibits users from collecting personal identifiable information (PII) in GA4. This is a violation of the company's Terms of Service, and it allows them to delete all the collected data in any property.

Personally identifiable information includes details such as phone numbers, addresses, and identification numbers.

Sharing Data with Other Products in Google 

Activating Google signals
Through its products, Google allows users to share their GA4 data with others, such as Google Ads and Google Signals. Although this can help your company track users, it can also expose them to privacy violations. Image Courtesy of Google Help. 

Prior to enabling the sharing of your data with other Google services, you should first consider the privacy laws applicable to you.

Prior to linking your users' data with other services, such as ad personalization and Google Signals, you must get explicit consent from them. This is necessary since the information may be used to create advertising profiles.

Your website's Privacy Policy should also clearly state that the data collected from users will be shared with other Google services.

Personal Data in GA4

When you start using the GA4 out-of-the-box features, you will notice that there are several parameters that are created. One of these is the Device ID, which is an anonymous and unique identifier that is assigned to every device that visits your website.

Device IDs can be used to identify individuals when paired with data collected from other sources. This means that they can be considered personal information under the GDPR.

The data collected by the GA4 app may not be regarded as personal under the GDPR if it is used in its default form. You should also avoid sharing this information with other tracking platforms and Google Signals. Moreover, you can prevent the use of the ad personalization feature by disabling it.

By implementing ad personalization or cross-linking your Google Analytics data with Google Signals, your Device ID may be regarded as a personal data subject of the GDPR. This means that your website may fall under this data protection framework's scope.

Using Data Storage Settings

With GA4, businesses can set the time before data from analytics servers is deleted. This feature allows them to retain event-level information.

The settings on the platform allow businesses to set different retention periods. For instance, they can choose to have their data held for 14 months, 26 months, 38 months or 50 months.

User explorer to get event information

GA4's User Explorer is a tool that lets businesses collect and analyze event information about their users, such as their device ID or email address. This feature allows them to remove this data from their systems upon request.

Integrate with BigQuery

The big data warehouse known as BigQuery is used by businesses to store and analyze large sets of information. Through the integration of both GA4 and BigQuery, organizations can export all of the event data related to their users.

Businesses that have to abide by data privacy guidelines may find this feature beneficial. BigQuery offers machine learning and advanced analytic capabilities.

Understand Cookie Consent Around the World

When you implement the GA4 out-of-the box solution, standard tracking cookies will be installed on your users' gadgets. This ensures that your website will comply with cookie laws in various countries.

If your site targets users from the European Union (EU), then your GA4 deployment will be subject to the EU cookie directive's scope. Even within the EU, the regulations regarding the consent of cookies vary depending on the country.

Employees at the office
Some countries in the EU require websites to get explicit consent before they can install analytics cookies on users' devices. Others allow them to do so without requiring explicit consent. 

In Germany, the country's data protection authorities have issued a guide that explains the requirements for the consent of cookies. They noted that websites don't need to get explicit consent before they can install analytics cookies on users' devices unless the collected data will be forwarded to a third party.

On the other hand, the United Kingdom has a different approach when it comes to the issue of cookie consent.

The ICO has stated that it's unlikely that it will take action against those who violate the law by implementing low-risk technologies, such as first-party cookies, without gaining the required consent. Nevertheless, we recommend following a safe and responsible approach and always seeking user consent before implementing such cookies on UK residents.

The obligations related to providing a notice banner to users when using GA4 will depend on the country's cookie laws. In any case, the exceptions to the cookie consent rules will only apply if you're only using the tool in an anonymized manner and don't share the data with other Google services.

If you store GA4 data with Signals or Ads, then you'll need to get active consent from your users via a cookie notice. This depends on the cookie laws of the country where you're located. 

Prioritize Data Privacy Today

Among many other reasons, GA4 was designed to make it easier for users to comply with the strict requirements of the GDPR. Due to the increasing number of global regulations and the growing awareness of data rights, organizations need to be more proactive in their efforts toward protecting their information. With the help of GA4, they can easily automate their compliance and privacy processes.

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