Don’t Lose Your Data: New Google Analytics Data Retention Settings

May 1st, 2018

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Raymie Equi, Director of Search & Analytics  ( Twitter | LinkedIn )
Updated On: May 20, 2018

Recently, Google Analytics sent an email to its administrators introducing data retention controls within the platform. The quote that accompanied this product change was particularly concerning and confusing for analysts and advertisers alike.

“Starting May 25, 2018, user and event data will be retained according to these settings; Google Analytics will automatically delete user and event data that is older than the retention period you select.”

Is it true? Will I lose all my precious Google Analytics data?

No one wants to fire up their Analytics account to find that all their hard earned website visits have gone missing! Losing the ability to report year over year metrics would be quite sad indeed for most marketers.

Luckily, the Google Analytics data retention changes will not remove critical metrics such as website sessions. However, user-specific data, which includes demographics, interests, and potentially even event tracking could be removed depending on your data retention controls.

The silver lining: Google Analytics has given us the ability to change the retention settings.

So, what should your Google Analytics Data Retention settings be?

To ensure that you don’t lose any Google Analytics data at all, set your user and event data retention time period to the “Do not automatically expire” setting. As of May 25, 2018, the default will be 26 months, which means that roughly every two years, your user and event data will reset.

One caveat is the main reason that Google is making these changes in the first place.

Why is Google making this change?

Google is preparing to meet the requirements of Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will go into effect in May of this year. The GDPR ensures consistent data privacy and protection for the personal data of all EU citizens. MarTech has aggregated an incredibly useful guide to GDPR.

These regulations will have an impact on US-based businesses as well. No matter where your company is based, if you receive website visits from EU citizens, their personal data is subject to the protections outlined in the GDPR.

Does the GDPR affect my company – or me?

If you use services such as Google Advertising Features, which includes Remarketing using Google Analytics or Google Analytics Demographics and Interests Reporting, then you are collecting customer data through cookies and other advertising identifiers.

Once you identify that you are collecting customer data, and specifically EU customer data, you should take the following steps:

  1. Fully disclose on your website that cookies are indeed being used, and what purposes they are being used for (advertising, remarketing, etc.). A disclaimer like this is easily implemented through privacy policies and notifications on websites.
  2. Be able to entirely purge a user’s personal information from your business data. This is the much more complicated action item.

Google Analytics has taken the initiative to give businesses an option of periodically removing the information associated with their cookies with the new Data Retention Controls. Determining what other personal information you have collected about your users is critical.

Using customer data is critical for effective, targeted digital advertising. Losing archived performance data can defeat all of your hard-earned campaign rationales, and make historical baselining much like throwing darts at a board. Blindfolded.

Be sure your marketing partner has a fully compliant strategy for protecting your users and their collected data. If you’re not sure where to start with ensuring your data remains intact, our team of digital gurus has your back. Don’t let the GDPR stand in between you and perfectly crafted campaigns. Drop us a line to get started.