With the official implementation of the European Union’s General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR), web tracking apps encountered a significant challenge: Ensuring the protection of the personal data and privacy of EU citizens. If you are using GA4, it's essential to prioritize GDPR compliance to operate in the EU market without facing penalties. Read this article to discover how you can enhance your GA4 setup's GDPR compliance.
- To achieve GDPR compliance for GA4, it must adhere to the regulation's principles.
- GA4 is not fully compliant with GDPR due to some limitations in meeting these principles.
- There are 6 features within GA4 that can make it more GDPR compliant.
- Server-side tracking and GA4 alternatives are possible solutions for GDPR-compliant data tracking.
Before delving into the issue of GA4 compliance with GDPR, it's essential to have a solid understanding of the 7 core principles that are the bedrock for the entire framework.
- Lawfulness, fairness and transparency - Processing must be lawful, fair, and transparent to the data subject.
- Purpose limitation - You must process data for the legitimate purposes specified explicitly to the data subject when you collected it.
- Data minimization - You should collect and process only as much data as absolutely necessary for the purposes specified.
- Accuracy - You must keep personal data accurate and up to date.
- Storage limitation - You may only store personally identifying data for as long as necessary for the specified purpose.
- Integrity and confidentiality - Processing must be done in such a way as to ensure appropriate security, integrity, and confidentiality (e.g. by using encryption).
- Accountability - The data controller is responsible for being able to demonstrate GDPR compliance with all of these principles.
While it was designed with a stronger focus on privacy, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is not yet in full compliance with GDPR due to some limitations:
- GDPR requires explicit user consent before collecting or processing personal data, which GA4 collects, including potentially identifiable information like IP addresses.
- GDPR mandates user access and data deletion, which GA4 currently lacks.
- GDPR imposes stringent privacy measures, and GA4 has its limitations in complying with them. The most significant limitation is that most GA4 servers are hosted in the U.S., and GA4 doesn’t provide users with the ability to choose where their data is stored.
Although there are obstacles, you can still maximize your GA4 setup’s compliance with GDPR with these features.
1. Use 'consent mode' in GA4
Google Consent Mode in GA4 offers a privacy control for Google tags on your website with user preferences. You can customize GA4 to align with user consent choices. This includes an API for managing tag cookies based on user consent, allowing you to track conversions and use familiar analytics tools while complying with GDPR.
2. Set up data retention
To align with GDPR's storage limitation and data minimization principles, GA4 has established a more stringent data retention policy. In contrast to Universal Analytics (UA), which permits the storage of user data for up to 64 months, GA4 offers only two retention options: the default setting of 2 months and an extended period of 14 months. It’s best to use the latter setting.
As you work on making your GA4 more GDPR-compliant, steer clear of using BigQuery Linking, a Google-provided data warehouse, for extending storage or improving data analysis. It's important to note that this method could harbor risks to data privacy, going against GDPR, the more places your users’ data is kept, the more chances of privacy issues.
3. Support users' personal data deletion requests
According to GDPR, users have the right to request the deletion of their collected data, which cannot be done directly; instead, users must send deletion requests. The good news is that GA4 appears to be GDPR-friendly in this aspect, as it offers the capability to delete an individual user's data within a specified time frame.
4. Be aware of enhanced IP anonymization
To adhere to the GDPR's integrity and confidentiality principle, GA4 provides an enhanced IP anonymization feature, which is automatically enabled and cannot be deactivated. Unlike UA, which only obfuscates the last 3-4 digits of IP addresses, this upgraded feature refrains from storing user IP addresses and tracking individual users.
This is considered the most significant alteration in GA4, contributing to better alignment with one of GDPR's key principles.
5. Sign an agreement with Google about data transfer to the US
As soon as the EU-US Privacy Shield was invalidated, transferring personal data from the EU or UK to the USA was regarded as a violation of GDPR principles. Consequently, you might expect your GA4 setup to incorporate privacy features to address this concern.
Unfortunately, there's no direct method to achieve this. Instead, you need to sign and retain a copy of a data processing agreement with Google. This document is essential for committing to restricted personal data transfers, as GA4 does not permit customers to select their data storage location.
6. Obtain explicit consent from website users for their data sharing
Google encourages data sharing with other Google products, such as Google Signals or Google Ads, as it offers certain advantages and enhances your business's tracking capabilities. However, it's crucial to be aware that data sharing comes with an increased risk of potential privacy law violations, particularly GDPR breaches, if not managed correctly.
Important note: To ensure your GA4 stays GDPR-compliant, be cautious about other configurations that might pose risks, including not using the POST method in form setups, and be mindful of tracking specific events related to user data.
>> Read more about What are GA4 events and how to set up them here.
Even after configuring all the features in GA4, your tracking system may not fully align with GDPR requirements, so you might want to seek alternatives that allow you to better keep to privacy regulations. Here are two potential solutions for you to consider.
#1. Use server-side tagging
What is server-side tagging?
Server-side tagging is a different way of keeping track of data. It shifts data control from third parties like Google or HubSpot to the first party – you, the website owner – by storing both the website and user data on a secure central server. Using this central server, you can decide what information to share with others while keeping things private, like making IP addresses anonymous.
Instead of letting third parties directly access your website, users, and their private information, the server acts as a secure shield, protecting your users from third-party vendors trying to track data.
In short, server-side tagging offers an effective method for adhering to GDPR regulations, enabling the postponement of data transmission, and ensuring secure storage on an individual server.
How is server-side tagging compliant with GDPR?
Server-side tagging is gaining attention in the digital marketing landscape for all the right reasons. But how does it fit in with GDPR rules?
- Delaying US data transfer: Server-side tagging allows for a cautious delay in sending data to the United States until essential safeguards align with GDPR regulations, minimizing potential privacy risks.
- Strengthening data control and security: By storing data on the host server before transmission, server-side tagging enhances control and enables robust security measures. This method, keeping data within your infrastructure, mitigates the risk of privacy breaches and strengthens GDPR compliance.
- Empowering data control: Server-side tagging provides organizations with enhanced control, allowing exclusion of specific personal data from transfer to America. This precise control aligns seamlessly with GDPR guidelines, giving companies greater authority over their collected data.
#2. Use GA alternatives
If you are looking for a GDPR-compliant analytics tool, you can try alternatives to Google Analytics. These options prioritize GDPR’s principles in their data collection, tracking, and transferring. With a wide range of alternative tools available in the market, you should evaluate which one is the best match for your business, based on the following options of requirements:
- Information sent to the United States undergoes anonymization.
- Data is stored on cloud servers based in the EU.
- You manage and oversee all data, ensuring no collection of personal information.
If you want to know more about alternative platforms like Matomo Analytics, Vercel Web Analytics, etc., that meet the aforementioned requirements, feel free to reach out to Niteco and get your comprehensive and customizable solution.
Conclusion - Is GA4 GDPR compliant?
It's important to note that Google Analytics, by itself, doesn't inherently comply or fail to comply with the GDPR. Still, there’s a way out for your business. To enhance the GDPR compliance of your GA4 setup, you can leverage its features. For more comprehensive GDPR-compliant data tracking, server-side tagging and GA4 alternatives can be a good approach. Whether it's GA4 or its alternatives, feel free to contact us for a GDPR-compliant data tracking setup and other digital marketing solutions.