While there's no doubt that Google Analytics is an incredibly easy and useful web analytics tool to implement, there are areas where it raises serious concerns: mostly relating to privacy and data ownership. As with every other proprietary service that comes for free, more often that not YOU inevitably are the product that's being sold. The use of Google Analytics across the web provides Google with a wealth of data on those websites and their user activities. Unfortunately the average web user often isn't aware that they're being tracked to even object to this in the first place.
Either way, deploying analytics software with data that only you control, provides both you as well as your online visitors with peace of mind over who precisely is in control of any collected data.
Simply choosing a non-Google option here can also be problematic. As software developers strike agreements with one another, it often becomes the case that your information might be shared with yet another third party. Take WordPress Stats for instance, which is an option normally recommended for non-enterprise WordPress users who don't require any deep level of analytics data beyond visitor numbers, page visits and traffic referral sources. What most people won't be aware of is that WordPress Stats runs a script which shares data with a company called Quantcast, which collects user information for targeted advertising.
Needless to say, when I first realised this for myself, I wasn't very pleased that the WordPress Stats developers (Automattic) had buried this relationship with Quantcast under a small one line note merely stating that "stats...uses Quantcast to enhance its data". As one privacy researcher has rightly mentioned:
While Automattic?s disclaimer may count as ?notice?, it does not clarify what the additional tracking is actually meant for. Why, exactly, is Quantcast receiving any of my visitors? personal information?
The real question is how many other companies are out there that aren't more clearly declaring these information sharing relationships? I don't intend to infer that Quantcast would use such information for malicious purposes, but the outright lack of respect for user privacy on the web today is alarming to say the least.
With information that you control, it's easy to say what's being done with it. On the other hand, you would never be able to make the same claim about another company - whether it be Google, Quantcast or anyone else - which is precisely why I encourage enterprise and individual users to at least consider making the switch to open source web analytics alternatives.
we who work on Piwik believe strongly in owning the data you collect. Your data is your future, and we believe that should be in no one?s hands but your own. This is the reason we created Piwik.
In particular I have found Piwik (which I use here and have deployed elsewhere) to be particularly excellent as a replacement for Google Analytics. In a future post I'll be covering its deployment on your server and how you can benefit from its use. While it requires a greater degree of technical knowledge to implement, it's a terrific analytics program, which in some respects is arguably superior to Google Analytics.
Another alternative that's definitely worth mentioning is Open Web Analytics, which while promising, I find doesn't have the same level of support as Piwik and isn't quite as advanced (at least for the time being).
Using these analytics tools alongside another open source platform like WordPress ensures that you have a powerful content management system and analytics package, over which you maintain sole control of your collected data, thereby eliminating concerns, both by you and your visitors, over third party access.