On the Online Privacy Trail: Dropping analytics

Locks in front of a mountain

Web analytics are a staple of website management, even though they only serve a very narrow purpose while gobbling large amounts of user data. In this episode of the Online Privacy Trail, I’ll tell you how I dropped them altogether.

Since I’ve been exiled from Facebook for not wanting to submit a government ID after they realizedĀ I wasn’t using my birth name as display name, I’ve discovered the wonderful world of decentralized social networking. Through the Fediverse, a loose collection of social network software interconnected through various protocols, I’ve come to meet many people actively involved in ensuring privacy for any Internet users.

Today, I’d like to talk about analytics software. As a website creator, I’ve been using Google Analytics for a long time, mainly because I could, and because I was eager to know how and why people were visiting my websites. And it did the job, especially when a sudden influx of page views brought the small server I was using to its knees, so I could place targeted ads on the specific popular pages without bothering regular users in order to pay for the bigger server I moved to.

When I started to move away from Google-owned products, I naturally tried to find an alternative to Analytics, and I found a self-hosted PHP one in the Piwik project. With a Debian package and easy install setup, this is a very good replacement for Google Analytics. However, after a little while using it, I found that I was rarely checking the dashboard, and when I did, there was no actionable info for me. Part is because my websites attendance dropped circa the time when Facebook became this all-encompassing machine, part is because there wasn’t much I could do to the website itself to improve its attendance, part is because I was collecting a lot of data about my visitors that I wasn’t doing anything with.

So I removed Piwik and its database, and it didn’t change a thing to my workflow. And unless you are a marketing profile who needs to show numbers to someone in order to justify your salary, I don’t believe analytics serve a beneficial purpose anymore. I’m now monitoring server performance for an eventual popularity spike, but that’s pretty much all I need.

I hope you’re going to reconsider your usage of any analytics software, not just Google Analytics or Piwik, even if it is to realize you need it for some specific purpose. I also hope you’ll follow me further down the Online Privacy Trail!

(Image is a public domain image found on Pixabay)

Edit: A reader showed me GoAccess, an access log file analyzer, and I must admit I was impressed. Of course it still needs an access log file to work, which if you run a Searx node the way I do doesn’t exist. Still, along with AWStats and The Webalizer, GoAccess is a very good middle-of-the-road solution for website administrators who needs stats but don’t want to collect more user data than they already have. Thanks to Steffen K9 and Michael_MD for the altenative web analytics suggestions.

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