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.

USE OF YOUR DATA

Both Google and Yahoo have built powerful platforms, but "the real value is in the data," says new media guru Scott Karp. In exchange for the free service, they both give themselves expansive usage rights to your data.

Here's what Yahoo says:

"As a condition of using Analytics, you will: (i) obtain on behalf of the Yahoo! Entities all rights and permissions necessary for the Yahoo! Entities to use the Analytics data, including statistical and traffic information collected by us and/or provided by you..."

Yahoo mandates that you put strict notice of this in your Web site's privacy statement, including this clause:

"...(iii) a statement that expressly identifies Yahoo! and its use of the Analytics data to improve Yahoo!'s products and services and to provide advertisements about goods and services that may be of interest to end users..."

Your privacy statement must also link visitors to an Analytics opt-out form.

Google is equally vague:

"Google and its wholly owned subsidiaries may retain and use, subject to the terms of its Privacy Policy.... information collected in Your use of the Service."

But Google does at least severely restrict third-party access to the data. Google and many fee-based analytics vendors will privately combine your data with that of other customers for benchmarking or industry-average information -- and then share those reports with you -- but you can typically opt out of this.

Accumulating data across customers relates to the retention and disposition topic below. If you leave the service, what data usage rights does the vendor retain? Some analytics vendors may purge your raw data but still keep your aggregate information to inform their benchmarking warehouse.

DATA SECURITY AND AVAILABILITY

All of the large Web analytics vendors go to great lengths to ensure the safety of your data from the perspective of unauthorized access. You may get careless with passwords, but that's your problem. Of course to the extent that most data thefts are inside jobs, those vendors with more fine-grained access controls (hint: Google not among them) may provide a greater degree of safety in this regard.

As with security, most (though not all) Web analytics vendors invest in back-up, redundancy, and failover systems for optimal availability. Yet if there's a data loss, you're on your own. In cases where you don't have access to the raw data, you may never even know about a blip unless the roll-up reports tip you off. All agreements that we've seen absolve the vendors of any liability here. So, in this case, what does data ownership really do for you? Not much, unless you have access rights and retrieve it regularly. More about that, below.

We don't know of any instances of major data loss in this marketplace. It's worth noting, though, that just such a nightmare recently befell users of the Ma.gnolia bookmarking service (a competitor to Del.icio.us). A critical failure to the main and backup data store wiped out everyone's bookmarks. Ma.gnolia is not a large, commercial vendor, but the fact remains that sometimes the cloud can fail you.

Vendor X's terms and conditions in this regard seem instructive:

"[Vendor X] cannot guarantee that any Customer Data Customer stores or transmits through the Service will not be subject to unauthorized access by others or that others will not gain access to the Service. [Vendor X] performs regular system-wide back up procedures for the Service, however Customer understands that there is an inherent risk in electronic storage and agrees to rely solely on its own backup copies of any Customer Data stored in or transmitted through the Service should the Customer Data become lost or damaged for any reason. At no time and for no reason will [Vendor X] be responsible for recovering or retrieving any Customer Data stored and/or transmitted by Customer using the Service unless such recovery or retrieval results from an event or occurrence that requires a Service-wide restoration (which shall be at [Vendor X's] sole determination.)"

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