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Why is data ownership important?

At the beginning of 2022, Google announced it would sunset Universal Analytics on 1 July 2023. “On July 1, 2023, standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits. If you still rely on Universal Analytics, we recommend that you prepare to use Google Analytics 4 going forward.”

One of the biggest shocks of this announcement is that Google won’t transfer historical data from Universal Analytics (UA) to GA4 and will completely erase UA data 6 months after 1 July 2023 (1 January 2024).

We’ll explore the reasons behind the change to GA4, who owns Google Analytics data, why data ownership is important, and how you can migrate successfully while retaining data integrity.

Why Google Analytics is Changing

There are two primary reasons why Google is moving to Google Analytics 4 that pertain specifically to data ownership.

Cross-platform tracking and analytics

Universal Analytics works on cookie tracking. This tracking model means organisations must track native apps and websites/web applications separately and use external solutions to get a holistic user journey view.

GA4 uses an events based model instead of a page-view based model.Using a single Google Analytics account, event tracking allows organisations to track multiple touchpoints (native apps, web apps, websites, landing pages, etc.).

According to a Marketing Platform article, Prepare for the future with Google Analytics 4, GA4 will give a complete view of the customer lifecycle with an event-based measurement model that isn’t fragmented by platform or organised into independent sessions.”

Privacy and compliance

GA4 also sees significant changes to privacy and compliance. Country-level privacy controls allow Google to change data collection per jurisdiction rather than applying a blanket policy impacting every user. For example, European GDPR policies won’t affect data collected on US users.

Another vital privacy feature is the ability for organisations to limit data sharing with internal and external teams (contractors, third parties, etc.) according to policies. These permissions make it easier for organisations to manage compliance while creating efficient data workflows.

GA4 also offers excellent marketing benefits, like machine learning attribution models, access to more Google Marketing Platform features, and better integrations with Google Ads, Analytics 360, etc.

How GA4 Will Impact Your Historical Data

When you switch from Universal Analytics to GA4, you’re effectively starting from day 0 in GA4—even if you have years of data history! No UA historical data copies to your new GA4 account.

UA will stop tracking data on 1 July 2023, and Google will completely erase this data on 1 January 2024.

With this in mind, organisations must migrate to GA4 as soon as possible to build their new data history. For example, if you migrate to GA4 today, you’ll only have one year’s worth of comparative data in 12 months.

These drastic changes and Google’s ability to erase UA historical data have many people asking, “who owns my Google Analytics data?”

Who owns Your Google Analytics Data?

In an article published at the beginning of 2022, Google clarified how Google Analytics privacy works and who owns the analytics data collected via the platform.

Under the subheading, Fact: Organisations control the data they collect using Google Analytics,” Google defines who owns GA data:

  • “Organisations use Google Analytics because they choose to do so. They, not Google, control what data is collected and how it is used.”

  • “They retain ownership of the data they collect using Google Analytics, and Google only stores and processes this data per their instructions — for example, to provide them with reports about how visitors use their sites and apps.”

According to this article, users own the analytics data collected using Google Analytics. Contrary to popular belief, Google Analytics users don’t share this data with Google by default. It is optional, and they must take explicit action to “opt-in” to share data with Google.

Google Analytics is a platform companies use to capture and analyse web and digital product analytics—the GA account owner owns the data. Account owners can view this data in Google Analytics or export it to other analytics tools or spreadsheets.

Taking Ownership of UA Data

One of the benefits of a platform like Google Analytics is that organisations have a single source of truth for analytics and historical data. After 1 January 2024, that single source of truth is gone for UA users.

Companies must export their UA data and use other analytics methodologies to analyse it. Google Analytics offers the following formats to export UA data:

  • CSV

  • TSV

  • TSV for Excel

  • Excel (XLSX)

  • Google Sheets

  • PDF

This method might work for small websites, but companies exporting years of historical data to spreadsheets can compromise gigabytes (or even terabytes) of data.

The safest way to maintain data integrity is to export UA historical data to BigQuery or the Google Analytics Reporting API. Successfully executing this type of export requires expert data analytics knowledge and experience.

No matter how you export UA data, you still have the issue of two data sets (UA & GA4) and how to store, manage, share, compare, and analyse these—data ownership.

What is Data Ownership?

Data ownership defines the roles and responsibilities for managing every aspect of an organisation’s data lifecycle and governance, from collection and storage to permissions, compliance, analysis, and sharing.

Why Data Ownership Matters

For many small businesses that rely on Google Analytics, the idea of data ownership may be new. Here are some data ownership considerations and why it’s important.

Legislation

The most critical aspect of data ownership is legislation (CCPA, GDPR, etc.) and legal implications. Improper management could lead to fines, reputation damage, legal action, and other issues organisations generally want to avoid!

Data owners must implement appropriate systems and protocols to comply with privacy laws, legal obligations, SLAs, etc.

Privacy & Security

Privacy is a significant part of data ownership. Data owners are gatekeepers protecting customer information and the organisation’s proprietary data. They must store this data responsibly and limit access according to company and legislative policies.

Some key privacy and security considerations include:

  • Secure data storage

  • Data access and permission management

  • Data governance procedures

  • Access to analytics tools (Google Analytics) and password security

Data Integrity

Without proper management, companies risk damaging data integrity. In a tool like Google Analytics, data integrity isn’t an issue, but when you collect and analyse data from multiple sources, maintaining its integrity becomes challenging.

For example, UA users will have one or more files containing UA data in the formats mentioned above. Data owners must ensure nothing compromises these files and maintain the data’s integrity when importing them into an analysis tool or spreadsheet.

Protecting the original files or source is also crucial for managing data integrity. Creating systems and protocols ensure the original files are never edited, shared, or lost/deleted.

Conclusion

With the sunsetting of Universal Analytics, companies must find adequate solutions to A) migrate from UA to GA4 and B) implement data ownership and governance protocols.

Our data analytics team has successfully migrated several clients and designed bespoke data ownership solutions to meet their business goals. 

Metric Labs Data Analytics Consultants have extensive knowledge and expertise with BigQuery and the Google Analytics Reporting API to help you navigate the complexities of exporting UA historical data.

Let Metric Labs handle your Google Analytics migration and data ownership solution so you can focus on your business and customers. Contact us to start your GA4 migration today!



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Reminder: Google UA Historical Data to be Deleted in July 2024

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