preloader
image

Web Analytics Platforms That Are Privacy Focused

published: Jan 23, 2022

If you are still using Google Analytics: stop!

Google analytics is a powerful tool and the number one analytics platform used by businesses today. Upon first glance it may seem like a simple data analysis tool, but in reality it can be used to collect massive amounts of personal information on any internet user or device.

As we begin to shift away from the web 2.0 paradigm to web 3.0, it is important to take an inventory of our data collection habits. Web analytics platforms, such as Google Analytics, is notorious for using invasive data collection techniques to track website visits. This article will explore some Google analytics alternatives for a more privacy-oriented web.

What is Web Analytics?

Every day, businesses make a lot of decisions about their marketing strategies and plans. Many of these decisions are based on data collected from visitors to the business’s website. This data can be used to make guesses about what the business could do better, but it’s often difficult to get a clear picture of a website’s visitor behavior. Web analytics platforms, however, make it possible to get a detailed picture of how visitors interact with a business’s website, and that means the information can be used to improve marketing strategies.

If a page is not generating traffic to your website, than is it contributing a purpose? Web analytics platforms help us determine if our content is helping our business. Unfortunately, the reach of large web analytics tools, such as Google analytics, have raised concerns amongst the privacy-focused community. The use of cookies, or small text files that are stored on your device by tracking platforms, means that it is often easy to follow you around the web and track your browsing habits.

Why Use Web Analytics Tools?

The use case for open web analytics tools are many. Primarily, we use these tools to ascertain whether or not our page is considered useful. Are people finding it? Are they dwelling on our page and site for a long time? If we measure page performance and determine the page is getting no views, no traffic, and low dwell time, then we can most certainly remove the page and return some of our crawl budget to pages that may have a better chance at being ranked.

Google Analytics Flaws: Illegal In Some Locales

According to a recent article Austrian DSB: Use of Google Analytics violates “Schrems II” decision by CJEU, Google Analytics is essentially illegal in some countries. To quote the article:

In a groundbreaking decision, the Austrian Data Protection Authority (“Datenschutzbeh√∂rde” or “DSB”)
has decided on a model case by noyb that the continuous use of Google Analytics violates the GDPR.
This is the first decision on the 101 model complaints filed by noyb in the wake of the so-called “Schrems II” decision.
In 2020, the Court of Justice (CJEU) decided that the use of US providers violates the GDPR,
as US surveillance laws require US providers like Google or Facebook to provide personal details to US authorities.
Similar decisions are expected in other EU member states, as regulators have cooperated on these cases in an EDPB “task force”.
It seems the Austrian DSB decision is the first to be issued.

For locales such as the United States of America, where data mining is considered acceptable, this will not pose a problem. However, for those who live outside of the United States, it may be time to start looking for permanent replacements to Google analytics.

Open Web Analytics Tools

Thankfully, there are plenty of alternatives to Google Analytics that will suit most of your needs. Many of these open web analytics tools are privacy oriented. This means that they focus on maintaining users anonymity, allow the host (you) complete and total data ownership, and do not aggregate the data in anyway for the purposes of reselling.

One thing I would mention is that terms of service do change and be careful to monitor any changes that might apply to you. For example, in 2021 it was discovered that, after Audacity changed ownership, telemetry code started appearing in the code base. So please be careful out there. With that being said, checkout some of the options for open web analytics out there:

Plausible Analytics

This is my analytics tool of choice. Managed hosting starts at $6/month but you can also self host on a cheap VPS or even a Raspberry Pi if you have the inclination. Plausible bills itself as a, “simple and privacy-friendly Google Analytics alternative.”

Some compelling points about Plausible:

  1. Lightweight and open source web analytics
  2. No Cookies
  3. Fully compliant with GDPR, CCPA, and PECR
  4. Hosted in the EU and powered by European Owned Infrastructure

It has a simple and easy to use user interface. If you are migrating from Google Analytics, you may find it’s menu of data a bit minimal but that is by design. Their idea is that Plausible cuts through the noise and can tell you everything you need to know about your site within less than a minute.

It’s simplicity does not mean it is weak. With very little configuration, one can track events, conversion goals, and campaigns. It can help you track outbound clicks, 404 errors, and UTM campaigns.

One of my personal favorite features is that it is really easy to make your analytics public and share it with our clients or anyone else who might be interested. This really makes it a breeze to keep your clients up to date and share your data collection with your site visitors. This means visitors can see exactly what data is being monitored and gives assurance that their identity remains private.

Plausible - Lightweight Open Sourced Web Analytics and Google Analytics Alternative

Matamo Analytics

Matamo, formerly known as Piwik, is one of the more well known open source analytics platforms. Matamo bills itself as a powerful web analytics platform that gives you 100% data ownership. Matamo can be installed on premise (free to install but no support) but also has a managed cloud version.

The advantage of Matamo is that it is feature rich. For many, it will appear to look a lot like Google Analytics. If you are an agency, and want to own your own data, Matamo may be a good choice for you. A certain advantage is that one can import existing google analytics data into Matamo which means you won’t have to start over from scratch.

For some, the feature set may be overwhelming. If you are not used to, or coming from Google Analytics, I won’t personally recommend this choice because it is a bit more oriented to enterprise data analytics.

Unlike plausible, Matamo uses cookies to track users data. More about Matamo’s cookies policy can be read here: Matamo Cookies Policy

If you want to check out Matamo you can do so here: Matamo Open Source Web Analytics

Open Web Analytics

Another open sourced web analytics tools billed as easy, open web analytics tools. From their own words, “Open Web Analytics is an open source web analytics software framework that you can use to track and analyze how people use your websites and applications.”

They highlight first party control, customization, customer relationship management systems (wordpress and Mediawiki-based websites), dozens of metrics, dimensions, and reports, an extensive data access API, and privacy controls.

One interesting feature of OWA is that one can monitor heatmaps with its software. It has a comprehensive dashboard to view analytics and it also has the ability to view the prior and next page analytics of visitors.

Other tools is the ability to view anonymized clickstreams of users, the ability to create custom site actions, SEO features such as being able to track keywords to referring pages, track loyalty of your visitors (repeat visits), and also a nifty feature that tracks clicks on all of your DOM elements.

At the time of writing, I could not find any information on cookies on their official documentation. With that being said, and without trying it first, I would hesitate to call this a cookie-free web analytics solution.

Learn more about Open Web Analytics at their official website: Open Web Analytics - Open Source Web Analytics - Control Your Data

GoatCounter

One of the features I like right away from GoatCounter: free hosted web analytics for non-commercial use. I think the author of the software can explain why GoatCounter exists better than I can: Why I made GoatCounter

GoatCounter aims to gives useful data without violating users privacy. Easy to use and meaningful analytics are the focus of this tool. GoatCounter boasts the following feature set:

  1. Privacy-aware analytics tool
  2. Identify unique visits without persistently storing users personal data
  3. Easy to configure and set up
  4. 100% committed to open source
  5. Lightweight and Fast
  6. Tracks Browser information, location, screen size. Keeps track of referring sites and UTM campaigns.
  7. Accessibility is a high priority. The interface works well with assistive technologies and screen readers.
  8. Own your own data: export it, do what you want with it, and cancel Goatcounter any time.

If you want to learn more about the potential of GoatTracker their website can be found at: GoatCounter Easy web analytics. No tracking of personal data.

Umami Analytics

From Umami’s own website, “Umami is a simple, easy to use, self-hosted web analytics solution. The goal is to provide you with a friendlier, privacy-focused alternative to Google Analytics and a free, open-sourced alternative to paid solutions. Umami collects only the metrics you care about and everything fits on a single page. "

One of the thing that I like about Umami is that it is possible to host it as a Vercel app. This makes self hosting relatively easy but you will still need to configure a database. Something like Google Firebase a MongoDB cloud db might suit this need. Umami boasts being GDPR compliant and cookie free. Event tracking and Single page application support are first class citizens with Umami.

Umami boasts the following features:

  1. Simple analytics - everything you need to care about is on one page
  2. Umami can track an infinite amount of websites from a single installation
  3. Umami is hosted by you and your own domain which aids in bypassing adblockers - unlike Google analytics
  4. Lighweight install
  5. Multiple accounts - add users to your installation and they can start tracking their own websites
  6. Unique URLs allow you to share data with anyone
  7. The interface is optimized for mobile devices
  8. Umami does not collect any personally identifiable information and anonymizes all data collected
  9. Open sourced under the MIT license

Get started with Umami here: Umami - free open source web analytics

Fathom Lite Analytics

Fathom Pro is not a free and open sourced solution, but Fathom Lite has an MIT license and is free to host on your own personal servers.

Fathom lite is a self hosted privacy-first analytics solution. The pro version of Fathom (starts at $14/month at the time of this writing) does not use cookies. However, the lite version does use cookies. GDPR, ePrivacy, CCPA, and PECR are not guaranteed with Fathom Lite. Pro also boasts a greater feature set such as device types, browsers, events, the ability to email reports, and new features being added monthly.

Fathom Lite will meet most needs but requires the technical know-how to set it up on your server. Fathom seems to favor users going with their paid and manage solution which offers quite a bit for $14/month. If you need a simple analytics platform for smaller projects or your small agency, Fathom may not be the first choice. But their commitment to the environment and relatively affordable entry to pro services makes them a compelling choice for established digital markets. Getting stared with Fathom Lite is as easy as visting their github repo: Fathom Lite Installation

Ackee Analytics

Ackee is a self-hosted analytics platform based on NodeJS. Their tagline is, “track without being tracked.” From their homepage, “Self-hosted, Node.js based analytics tool for those who care about privacy. Ackee runs on your own server, analyzes the traffic of your websites and provides useful statistics in a minimal interface.”

Some of the features that Ackee boasts:

  1. Data made beautiful: a minimal clean UI helps making data analysis distraction free
  2. Safe and anonymous: Ackee is cookie freeand secure. The boast a multi-step anonymization process that ensures your users stay anonymous to you.
  3. Host it on your own server
  4. Simple integration script
  5. Unlimited domain tracking: integrate as many site as you want

Ackee also has a GraphQL api integrated into the software. This makes data extraction and analysis completely customizable. Don’t want GraphQL? Owners can actually integrate their own API into Ackee. The API makes it convenient to integrate not only websites, but mobile apps and anything else you might want to track.

From their site, “No unique user tracking. No cookies. Ackee uses a multi-step process to keep tracked data anonymized while still providing helpful analytics.”

Want to see how easy it is to install Ackee? Visit their website and get started: Ackee: self-hosted web analytics tool

Freshlytics Analytics

When you visit Freshlytics Analytics site you are greeted with a cookies banner. This is interesting because one of the highlighted features of Freshlytics is that it does not use cookies in it’s implementation. Gitbook is the hosting platform for their website.

Their website is minimal but I like the way they organize their data. Their intention is: “Provide a way for website owners to learn more about how the users are using their site without invading user’s privacy.”

With Freshlytics, personal identifiable information is not collected and no cookies are used. Freshlytics is most likely geared towards hobbyists and those who are hosting small personal projects. Setting up Freshlytics requires a bit of server know-how. If you have never spun up a docker container, then Freshlytics Analytics might not be for you. Then again, this could be the perfect time to ge your feet wet with docker and learn about docker-compose.

Freshlytics claims the following features:

  1. Privacy: no cookies are used and no personal identifiable information is collected
  2. Clean Dashboard: easily switch between multiple projects, slice data within a date range, filter page view by multiple dimensions
  3. Tracking: simple website page view tracking with useful analytics for each page view
  4. Supports multiple projects per installation
  5. Can have an admin user as well as additional regular users

Freshlytics Analytics has a very simple documentation-focused website which I like. They are definitely gearing their web analytics platform to a more advanced user and probably smaller projects.

If you have some experience with docker, and appreciate a documentation-oriented software model, then I think you should take Freshlytics for a spin. Find out more: Freshlytics Analytics: It’s a self-hosted privacy-friendly analytics service.

GoAccess Web Log Analyzer

GoAccess is something different. Aimed towards sysadmins, “GoAccess is an open source real-time web log analyzer and interactive viewer that runs in a terminal in *nix systems or through your browser.It provides fast and valuable HTTP statistics for system administrators that require a visual server report on the fly.”

GoAccess is a fast terminal-based web log analyzer. The terminal is the default output, but it is also capable of generating a complete web-based html report as well. This makes it an interesting contender in the web analytics platform space. Not only can it anonymously record traffic to your website, but it can do so much more.

GoAccess has the following feature set:

  1. Completely real time
  2. Nearly all web log formats
  3. Track application response time
  4. Incremental log processing
  5. Only one dependency
  6. Minimal configuration needed
  7. Tracks visitor hits, visits, bandwidth, running requests by the hour or date
  8. Metrics per virtual host
  9. Customizable color scheme

This would be a great tool of sysadmins with large volumes of traffic and website with multiple v hosts. Get started with GoAccess here: GoAccess - Visual Web Log Analyzer

Shynet Analytics

Shynet, another open source, privacy-focused web analytics platform aims to be, “Modern, privacy-friendly, and detailed web analytics that works without cookies or JS.”

Shynet prefaces its use with the following statement of motivation:

There are a lot of web analytics tools. Unfortunately, most of them come with the following caveats:

  • They require handing all of your visitors’ info to a third-party company
  • They use cookies to track visitors across sessions, so you need to have those annoying cookie notices
  • They collect so much personal data that even the NSA is jealous
  • They are closed source and/or expensive, often with limited data portability
  • They are hard to use

Shynet has none of these caveats. You host it yourself, so the data is yours. It works without cookies, so you don’t need any intrusive cookie notices. It collects just enough data to be useful, but not enough to be creepy. It’s open source and intended to be self-hosted. And you may even find the interface easy to use. Shynet is a portmanteau of “Skynet” and “shy.” The idea is that it gives you loads of useful information (Skynet) while also respecting your visitors’ privacy (shy).

I really like that it shows the average load times. This is great feedback for web developers that need to be consistently optimizing their websites. Some features that Shynet offers:

  1. Can be run on a single small virtual private server
  2. For higher traffic sites it can be spun up as a high performing Kubernetes cluster
  3. Built using Django
  4. Can have multiple users and sites
  5. Javascript not required (fallback to 1x1 tracking pixel)
  6. Lightweight
  7. Blocked less by ad blockers since you self host it
  8. primary-key integration to associate visitors as members
  9. A large collection of metrics to learn about your visitors

Honestly, this looks very promising. I like that they also have a collaboration feature as well as account management. Get started with this unique analytics platform her: Shynet: Modern, privacy-friendly, and cookie-free web analytics.

Open Source Google Analytics Altenatives Conclusion

As you can see, there are many viable alternatives to Google Analytics for a better, privacy-preserving method to analyzing web visitors. Unfortunately, one analytics tool does not meet all needs. Many are feature rich and focused towards agencies and large organizations. Smaller open web analytics tools may be great for smaller projects but make it difficult to scale up. Either way, we all know that Google Analytics will continue to be less relevant as time goes on.

The internet is moving towards the next era. One where users expect a rigorous preservation of personal privacy.

Is your business privacy-centered? I can help you analyze your website and make important recommendations to help preserve your users privacy. If you want to have a free consultations, simply schedule a free consultation today!

My Google Reviews