Exploring Google Analytics 4’s Privacy Controls & Features

Chances are you are well aware that Google Analytics 4 is the future of Google’s analytics products. For those still getting up to speed, Google Analytics 4, or GA4, is set to replace Universal Analytics (UA) from July 2023. With this recent news, businesses are encouraged to make the shift sooner rather than later to ensure a longer look-back period for analysis once UA is deprecated and discover how GA4 data collection can work for your business.

At XPON, we also see this as an amazing opportunity for businesses to rethink their measurement models and first-party data strategy for the privacy-first world we live in today. GA4 offers some great benefits for respecting users’ privacy and managing first-party data efficiently.

A first-party data strategy represents an amazing opportunity to build a unique customer experience and a defensible competitive advantage. If you want to know more about this topic you can read our blog Why first-party data is driving brands to rethink their AdTech ownership in 2022.

Let’s take a closer look at the various privacy control features you’ll find with GA4 Data Collection:

Consent Mode

GA4’s Consent Mode offers consumers more control of their personal data. It creates an avenue for users to express their data preferences during a browsing session so brands can then configure or adjust their online experience accordingly.

Consent Mode integrates with Google Tag Manager, unlocking additional privacy control features. For example, when a cookie banner pops up during a user’s browsing session, the customer can choose which cookies are enabled. Google Tags can then dynamically adapt to align with these permissions. It can also be used with other common consent management tools, such as OneTrust or Cookiebot, to ensure data collection aligns with individual user privacy preferences at all times.

Default Anonymity

Currently, in UA settings, you can go into properties and manually enable ‘Anonymise IP’ – meaning the IP address of a specific user would be masked. This IP protection happens at the time data is being collected but prior to any information being processed or stored. In GA4, this setting will be enabled by default, and there is actually no way for a company to disable it.

It’s important to understand Google Analytics can still source important high-level geographic information and derive geolocation reports, as the first portion of the IP will be accessible. It’s simply the last few numbers of the IP address that will be masked, so customers can’t be pinpointed in such a precise way.

It’s a win-win situation, as you can still elicit the necessary facts and values you need to make informed business decisions or hone your marketing strategy, but respect your costumes more and honour their privacy in the process.

GA4 Data Collection Options

With most companies now taking the reins on first-party data, data retention periods and policies are now even more relevant and important. The options currently offered in UA range between 14 months and ‘do not automatically expire’. In other words, you can choose how long to keep a hold of unaggregated user data – things like cookies, their User ID, and advertising features such as device identifiers.

It’s quite bold when you stop to consider companies can technically hold on to such information indefinitely. This is where GA4 data collection is significantly different; you can choose to retain data for either two months or 14 months but the indefinite option is no longer on the cards. Furthermore, once data reaches the end of the selected retention period, it will be deleted automatically, on a monthly basis.

Whilst it might sound restrictive at first, these shorter data retention options ought not to concern you. From a reporting perspective, standard reports will still work for as far back as the creation date of your property. The stricter settings simply affect how far you can go back with the ‘Explore’ reports and custom reports, as these use unaggregated data.

By enforcing a number of privacy-first features within GA4, Google encourages marketers to rethink their measurement and first-party data strategy for the privacy-first world we live in today. Essentially, you can still access data for the sake of important activations and predictions, but with greater regard for your customer base. And you’ll be operating in this privacy-centric way without having to consciously review and consider your configuration in line with data privacy regulations and expectations, given it’s inbuilt by default.

XPON understands that upgrading and transitioning MarTech platforms can be stressful and time-consuming. If you or your organisation would like any help migrating from UA to GA4 or would like further counsel regarding your company’s first-party data strategy, we’d be happy to help. XPON can support by developing a clear roadmap towards GA4 Data Collection, with clear milestones for dual tagging, privacy-first measurement, and team enablement. Get in touch with our team of experts today.

Other blogs in our GA4 series that may be of interest: