Every so often I go through a phase where I decide to care about my online privacy. A complete and total lack of online privacy may seem inevitable at this point, but nonetheless, I don’t like the idea of being tracked online. One of the steps I took in my recent foray into anonymous browsing, was to install Brave, a privacy-focused browser, which professes to block ads and trackers. I also installed uBlock and Privacy Badger on my Chromebook to hopefully accomplish some of the same things.
At the same time, I have been interested in learning about and experimenting with ways to drive traffic to websites that I run. My sites are mostly just little experiments (Peloton Metrics, Magnum P.I. Trivia) but I’ve been curious who visits so I ran Google Analytics on them to get some insight into that data.
Then I had an epiphany that hit me like a gut punch…
If I was so concerned about my own privacy, why wasn’t I concerned about others’ privacy as well? How could I consciously defend having tracking cookies and analytics code on my web apps if I was going to be blocking them on everyone else’s?
To be fair, I don’t actually sell anything on my sites, had no plans to do anything with the data collected, and am not trying to make any money, so I get that my use case is a bit atypical and “easy”. It’s much easier for me to remove some tracking code than it is for a big business with employees who have jobs tied to SEO and ROIs and AB tests… but still. By using Google Analytics, I was giving one of the most powerful entities in the world additional data (however unimportant and minuscule) about unsuspecting users.
So I removed it.
So far, my analytics-less environment has actually been kind of nice. I don’t spend the extra time every day going in and looking at the numbers. The extensions in my browser don’t show a badge with a number in it warning me that my own site is tracking me. I feel good about people visiting my sites.
One of the phrases that gets thrown around a lot in regards to the conversation around privacy is:
If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product.
I’ll admit, I’m happy to be Google’s product most of the time. I’m willing to trust them with a whole lot of my data for the ease and convenience of the likes of Gmail, Google Photos, Android, etc. They probably know me better than I know me. I think that’s why any semblance of control feels good and why I installed my privacy browser/extensions in the first place (even though they by no means solve the privacy issue…).
But, that got me thinking about paying for products I consume/consumed for free and I did a search for some privacy-focused analytics platforms. As I said, I actually enjoy SEO and analytics a bit so I didn’t want to lose that piece of the web app maintenance. Unsurprisingly, there are a couple really promising privacy-focused analytics sites out there! Fathom Analytics is one and Cloudflare just opened up a beta for theirs. That being said, you have to pay for these (I’m not sure about Cloudflare yet but then I’d point back to the aforementioned phrase…).
When faced with the decision to pay for privacy-focused analytics or have none at all, I found my decision was rather easy to make - I would rather save my money. The data and my interest in web traffic wasn’t worth the price per month that was being offered. That was the most illuminating thing to me and provides a very simple question with some thought-provoking answers that can be applied to many different services we consume on the internet…
Are you willing to pay for it?
There’s four primary answers to that question:
- “No, but my data I’m giving away is worth it.”
- “No, and I really don’t need this so I won’t use it and/or I’ll remove it.”
- “Yes, but I don’t have to so I’m not going to.”
- “Yes, and I’ll put my money where my mouth is.”
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with any of those answers. I do think it’s important to understand what we’re doing with our data and to be conscious about it, however. In my case, it felt wrong to infringe on people’s privacy using tracking cookies that I knew I was blocking on my own computer.