Achtung! Google Analytics is illegal, say German government officials

[Germany] Several federal and regional government officials in Germany are trying to put a ban on Google Analytics, the search giant’s free software product that allows website owners and publishers to get detailed statistics about the number, whereabouts and search behavior of their visitors (and much more).

According to an article in today’s Zeit Online (poor Google translation here), multiple federal and state government officials charged with guarding over national data protection are convinced that Google Analytics is against the law in Germany and are mulling imposing fines on companies who use the service to gather detailed stats based on their website visitors’ usage patterns without the explicit consent of those visitors.

Still according to the Zeit Online article, an approximate 13% of German website publishers (meaning those with sites that have .de as their TLD) currently use Google Analytics, including several websites of leading media organizations, political parties and pharmaceutical companies. The government officials are particularly wary about the information Google is able to collect on websites of health insurance companies and the like, saying Google could conceivably create profiles of people that would include information about their interests, lifestyles, consumption patterns, political and sexual preferences.

This isn’t the first time German privacy protection officials have voiced their concerns about the Google Analytics service, as it had earlier criticized the search giant over keeping everyone ‘in the dark’ about which information they’re collecting exactly and how much identifiable data is sent to and stored on servers located on U.S. soil. German laws prohibit such data to leave the country, they claim.

Google Germany’s Per Meyerdierks, however, says the company is well within its rights to process user data in the United States because it respects the Safe Harbour treaty between the EU and the USA. He argues that an opt-out would be entirely unnecessary, and that users always have the option to refuse cookies anyway.

One German lawyer that gets cited in the article says the penalties could amount up to €50,000 (about $75,000) per website that uses Google Analytics to keep track of its visitors’ usage patterns.