Google used to distance itself from its competitors with the motto "don't be evil," but now an increasing number of seasoned privacy firms are flocking to the chorus "don't be Google."They're going after Google Analytics, a tool used by more than half of the world's websites to track users' surfing habits."Google built a lot of good hardware for a lot of people," says Marko Saric, a Dane who lives in Belgium and founded Plausible Analytics in Estonia in 2019.
"However, they adjusted their technique throughout time without truly considering what is proper, what is incorrect, what is wicked, and what is not."GDPR, a European Union regulation, benefits Saric and many others. In 2018, a privacy regulation was enacted to limit who has access to personal information. Last week; France joined Austria in claiming that Google's method of transferring personal data from the EU to its US servers was illegal under GDPR since the country lacked necessary safeguards. Google disagrees, claiming that the records are anonymised and that the scenarios envisaged in Europe are speculative.
Nonetheless, in a genuine David vs. Goliath confrontation, startups sense a gap. "The week that the Austrian DPA (data protection authority) deemed Google Analytics illegal was a fantastic week for us," says Paul Jarvis, who owns Fathom Analytics from his home on Vancouver Island, Canada. He claims that new memberships tripled in that week; however he does not provide specific figures. According to W3Techs, Google dominates the analytics business, with 57 percent of all websites using its service.Matomo, the most well-known privacy-focused application, accounts for 1% of all websites.The smaller businesses are well aware that they will not be able to challenge Google's dominance; rather, their goal is to bring some justice and choice to the market.
Edward Snowden, a former CIA contractor, became the catalyst for pro-privacy software developers in 2013. Showed how the US government's security agencies were conducting mass surveillance."Some of it was already known to us," explains Matthieu Aubry, the founder of Matomo."However, when he came out, we had confirmation that we weren't simply being paranoid."
Snowden revealed how the US National Security Agency, with the help of a secret judicial system, was able to collect personal data from users of Google, Facebook, and Microsoft websites.
Snowden's revelations bolstered support for Europe's new privacy regulation and prompted software developers to prioritize privacy in their products. The sheer complexity of Google Analytics is the initial target for the companies. You have 1,000 different dashboards and all this data but it’s useless if you do not do anything with it. Michael Neuhauser, the founder of Fair Analytics, adds that he "understands it."
Jarvis, who previously taught others how to utilize Google Analytics, calls it a "behemoth."Unlike Google, the privacy-focused products do not track users throughout the web with cookies and provide a much more limited set of data, allowing them to stay inside GDPR's bounds. This is a crucial selling factor on every one of their websites.
However, generating a living with these instruments is no easy task.
Before they could pay themselves a wage, Saric of Plausible and Jarvis of Fathom both invested time and money into their projects. Both companies still have a startup mindset, with small teams working across regions and having direct touch with clients.
Aubry, who created Matomo in his early twenties in 2007, recalls himself in a similar situation."We didn't even have a business around the project for a long time; it was pure community," the Frenchman explains from his home in Wellington, New Zealand.
However, he claims that his company now has a global presence and that he wants to contribute to the creation of an "alternative internet" that is not dominated by big tech.His peers are at a far earlier stage in their careers, but they share his sentiments. Anyone who switches from a giant tech product, according to Jarvis, is "a win for privacy" and helps to create a more equitable system.
However, there is still a significant barrier: Google can afford to provide its products for free, whereas smaller businesses require clients. To create a monthly payment, even if it is only a few dollars.
According to privacy advocates, it's time to rethink how we think about these transactions.
"We don't pay for all of these free items that we use and enjoy with money; we pay for them with data and privacy," Jarvis argues."We charge for our product because it is simply a more ethical business strategy."