Do You Really Own Your Web Analytics Data? - InformationWeek

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Software // Information Management

Do You Really Own Your Web Analytics Data?

Hosted service contracts may say the data is yours... technically. But can you get at the raw information, for how long and what about privacy? Consider these access, usage, retention and disposition concerns.

Your Web site analytics solution generates a lot of data, potentially gigabytes a day if you run one or more busy sites. But who really owns all that rich data? It's a complex issue that often gets overlooked during Web analytics vendor selection and contract negotiations. As more customers turn to SaaS-based solutions (where the vendor stores your traffic data) and as Google and Yahoo continue to broaden this marketplace with their free hosted analytics offerings, the question of data ownership becomes increasingly germane.

Unfortunately many analysts and Web managers we encounter at large enterprises either don't read or don't have access to their vendor service terms, and they generally don't ask about data ownership during the vendor evaluation process. Most Web analytics customers just assume that they fully own their Web analytics data and are just granting a limited license to the vendor to generate reports. Depending on what "full ownership" means to you, that may not be totally true.

Within the enterprise, most companies have data ownership sorted out pretty clearly: all data belongs to "the employer." In fact, the fear of conferring ownership to an employee or any other entity spawned the phrase "data stewardship," rather than "data ownership." You may work with enterprise data for eight hours every day, but you are only the steward of that data; your employer actually owns it.

To give you a better sense of what truly matters to your enterprise, this article breaks ownership down into four, more specific dimensions:

  • Data usage
  • Data security and availability
  • Data retention and disposition
  • Data access

Before we consider the four dimensions of ownership, let's have a look at the contracts. Hosted Web analytics vendors are providing you a service by ingesting, aggregating and parsing your traffic data, which they accumulate on your behalf. As part of its research for the Web Analytics Report, CMS Watch examined agreements from Google and Yahoo as well as contracts submitted privately from customers of two traditional fee-based Web analytics providers -- call them Vendor X and Vendor Y.

The two fee-based vendors explicitly confirm your ownership of the data.

Here are Vendor X's terms:

"As between [Vendor X] and Customer, Customer exclusively owns all rights, title and interest in and to all Customer Data. Customer Data is deemed Confidential Information..."

And Vendor Y, too:

"Customer Data, other Customer Confidential Information and any other Customer information and materials, and all worldwide intellectual property rights in the foregoing, are your exclusive property."

What about the free services?. Google's ToS (which is, to Google's credit, publicly available online) also refers to the collected data as "customer data." But the agreement doesn't clarify whether "customer" in this context means you, and not your Web site visitors. Yahoo's terms are mute on the topic of data ownership.

What does data ownership really mean? This legal dictionary defines ownership, alternately, as "Legal title coupled with exclusive legal right to possession," or "The right by which a thing belongs to someone in particular, to the exclusion of all other persons." When a SaaS vendor says you own your data, what rights are you still conveying and withholding?

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