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It’s true that the Internet is completely measurable, and it’s true that the amount of details available through web analytics is mind boggling. However, there’s a common misconception among people who are not in the web analytics world. That misconception is that the companies that collect all those data will use the data to keep an eye on and influence/manipulte the Internet users. That’s simply not true. Let me explain.

I’ve been involved in web analytics at various levels in a handful of web companies now. All of the companies collect TONS of information on the people who access and use their site, but none of them really make use of the data the way the public think they do. For example, the company may know your username and what and when you access their site, but very little is synthesized from those data to do anything that will directly impact you. On paper, it sounds as if they could target you with relevant ads, play big brother and sell you things and services you don’t need, etc. In reality, that does not happen often at all.

Why is that, you ask? From my experience, there are several big reasons:

  1. The web analytics tool are clunky as heck! They are great for cursory reporting, but anything that is worth the penny you spend on the tool takes further implementation. While the implementation isn’t hard, coordinating with your internally resources to implement them is frustrating at best!
  2. The analytics tools are built to be stand alone and don’t integrate well with other tools at all. So more often than not, you are left with half-baked stories from each of the tools you deploy.
  3. Most people don’t know how to analyze the data in such a way as to make business impacts.
  4. And if they do know how to analyze the data, selling the idea to the executives takes skills most people don’t possess.

As you can see, there are LOTS of barriers to useful data analyses when it comes to the Internet data. The bottom line? The Internet is far, VERY far, from being the all-knowing monster people think it is. Sure, there are terabytes upon terabytes of data collected about Internet users every minute, but most of them just sit in the databases, never to be touched again. My advice to all those who are concerned about Internet privacy? Your fear is duly noted but unfounded (in 99.9% of the case).

Happy surfing, everybody!

August 2008