Blog

Social media, analytics, and customer privacy

Written by Kieran Jones

Over the past few weeks, users around the world have been bombarded with endless updates to privacy policies and requests to opt-in to receiving emails as part of the privacy apocalypse stemming from the implementation of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) throughout the European Union on May 25th. We ourselves had to update our privacy policy as well as updating our terms and conditions of service in order to reflect the rights of our customers and our legal obligations as a business.

Writing a privacy policy for the new GDPR legislation encourages businesses to really think about what data they collect, why they need it, and how long they need to keep it for. In many ways the GDPR is an excellent piece of legislation because it isn’t prescriptive on what a business must do, but it simply encourages business to be upfront, honest, and realistic with their customers. As a company that prides itself on being ethical, we didn’t find this process particularly onerous, and actually we feel it was a generally positive thing. It does mean we now have a rather long privacy policy, but it didn’t really require any changes from us as we were already only storing what we really needed to.

Something that has come up though is our use of third party visitor analytics and social media links on our website; like many businesses, we use Google Analytics and social media like/share/tweet buttons on our blog posts. We are upfront about our use of these services in our privacy policy so that people understand exactly what data we’re collecting and how we use it. Upon reflection though, it occurs to us that whilst we’re open and honest about this, the companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook who we are sharing our visitor data with are not so clear.

Whilst these organisations have published GDPR compliant privacy policies, their entire business is based upon collecting personal information and other data for use with targeted advertising and so hiding the details of exactly what they do with the vast amount of data which they collect in long policies is key to their entire business model.

Our use of Google Analytics benefited us by allowing us to make sure that we develop a website which works well for our users and functioned well as a sales tool, but upon further reflection we have come to realise that whilst we undoubtedly had some small benefit from those services, Google, Twitter, and Facebook were getting disproportionately more benefit. By using their analytics and social buttons on our website, we were unwittingly giving these companies the ability to track our customers through our website! They could track the fact that you, most likely one of their users, visited our website, which means that they now know that you may be interested in hosting services, or run a website, or perhaps buy domain names and this means that they can profile you based on those interests then target their advertising appropriately.

We’ve decided that we don’t want to facilitate the indiscriminate tracking of visitors such as yourself by these companies any longer; we don’t get a massive benefit from these services, but what we are doing is enabling them to further track you around the internet and that isn’t right, there are other means we can user to measure our website performance without benefiting these huge international companies gaining even more information about you. From today these services have now been completely removed from our website - this blog no longer has social buttons on it, and our website no longer tracks users behaviour throughout the page.

Another bonus of removing all these social media and tracking codes is that our website got a lot quicker; without loading all this complicated Javascript the page gets a nice speed boost so you can get to buying your hosting even faster, which seems far more beneficial to Freethought than a few likes and Tweets!