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May 15, 2023

How did we approach web analytics for Data Curious?

When you visit a website, there’s a good chance that behind the scenes information is being collected about how you interact with the site. You might be curious about web analytics so here is how we decided whether to use them, which one to use, and how to communicate it with visitors to Data Curious. 

Do you need analytics for your website?

Web analytics are the tools and processes that collect and analyze a very wide range of data about visitors to a website. Companies and organizations rely on this data to make informed decisions about their products, and services, as well as about the performance of their digital presence. 

We launched Data Curious in January 2021. A few months later we explored whether to use web analytics to understand the number of visitors and what posts and pages on the site are the most popular. The first questions we answered included, Do we need information about people who visit this site? If so, what exactly do we need? And, importantly, why? We challenged ourselves to answer this with more than, “That would be interesting,” which can be used as a blanket term to justify collection without a more precise purpose. We want to be able to clearly explain why we want the data, how we’ll use it, and what options visitors have. 

What are the options?

About half of websites use Google Analytics, which is free, easy, and for a long time, one of only a few options to collect information on website usage. But Google Analytics, out of the box, is in violation of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and collects a lot of data, almost all of which we would not need or want at Data Curious. Although it doesn’t cost money, website owners are giving a bunch of data about their visitors to Google. We wanted to avoid that. 

Being privacy people, we built our own, privacy-friendly web analytics tool that involved regularly downloading server logs and preparing a report. But that needed too much attention and maintenance. We wanted something more automated and looked around for a tool that addressed these questions:

  • How customizable are the options for collecting data?
  • Does the company collect anonymously?
  • What does the company do with the data?
  • Is the company compliant with privacy laws in the areas we operate?

We decided to go with Fathom Analytics, a small company that sells software, not data. They claim to be privacy focused, and after doing some research, we were convinced. Their tool is highly customizable, affordable, easy to use, and fast. It is also privacy friendly, meaning, they do not use cookies or trackers nor do they store any personal data. 

How do you communicate your use of web analytics with visitors?

The most common way to communicate about how personal data is handled is through privacy policies. To us, the best ones are accurate, easy to understand, and accessible and answer these questions. Ideally, they also give visitors options. 

  • What data are you collecting?
  • What are you using it for?
  • Are you selling or sharing personal data with other parties?

Here is Data Curious’s https://www.datacurious.org/privacy-policy

Our ultimate metric

Really, the most important metric for us, at Data Curious, is whether someone gets curious about their data when they engage with this site. If one person reaches out and says thank you, asks a clarifying question, or gives feedback, that’s the best kind of metric. 

Thanks to Cassia Artanegara, Jennifer Chen, and Jared Maslin

What do you want to know about data, privacy, or technology?

Data Curious is a public resource supported by Good Research LLC in collaboration with the Center for Digital Civil Society at University of San Diego.

To contact us, send us an email at hello@datacurious.org.

AboutPrivacy Policy