Considering Piwik

Nick Heer, on his decision to install Piwik on Pixel Envy:

I want you to know that I’m taking Piwik for a trial run. Piwik is analytics software that is self-hosted, so none of your information is going to a giant advertising company. I’ve long been an ardent supporter and user of Mint, but it hasn’t been updated for a while so it’s not super great at reporting recent versions of iOS and OS X, for example.

I had never heard of Piwik until John Gruber started a discussion on Twitter over the weekend about whether or not Google Analytics was a privacy-invasive tracker. I saw several responses that suggested he take a look at Piwik, a freely available, open source analytics package that can be installed on your own server or hosted by their cloud service.

I replied to John pointing out his own policy regarding Google Analytics on his Markdown Dingus — preferring not to have analytics tracking to ensure its users that Google couldn’t read what they were inputting into the text field. I also noted that I observed in Ghostery that Google Analytics was loading a tracking script from Adometry on Daring Fireball.

Adometry, as far as I can tell, is a company owned by Google which helps Adsense properly attribute revenue to the sites which contribute to a successful advertisement conversion. I also observed DoubleClick trackers appear on sites like The Loop, which I can also only assume are being loaded because of their use of Google Analytics. I prefer not to be tracked at all, but I’d certainly consider Google Analytics to be a privacy-invasive tracker when it’s sending my data to ad-related services even when I visit webpages that don’t include Google-served ads.

I haven’t used Google Analytics in years because I was always concerned that they were using the collected traffic data for more than just the betterment of the sites who use it. But until this weekend, I never really had any proof of it. I have been using Shaun Inman’s Mint, which I still consider to be a great analytics system. But as Nick points out, Mint hasn’t been updated in quite sometime and I’m starting to wonder if I should switch to an analytics app that’s more actively developed.

There’s a lot to like about Piwik — there’s a native iOS app, it respects Do Not Track, and I’ve noticed others deciding to test it as well (Ben Brooks being one of them). But I’m not jumping in just yet, I’d like to see how Piwik works out for Nick and Ben first and I’m not sure if Piwik tracks RSS subscribers like Mint does with the Bird Feeder pepper. This means I might have to find an alternative solution if I want to switch to Piwik while continuing to keep tabs on the number of RSS subscribers to Initial Charge.

Piwik might not be the best option for every site — there’s plenty of other options if you look around. But those of us who run websites owe it to our readers to not give up their browsing information to third-parties so easily, particularly when it’s not happening transparently. At least you have some idea of what’s happening when you visit a page that displays Adsense ads, but that isn’t the case when you visit a site that simply uses Google Analytics.

I would especially like to see John Gruber move Daring Fireball away from Google Analytics. He sparked this whole conversation to begin with and is someone who cares deeply about treating his readers with respect. And I think the respectful thing to do would be to stop sending his reader’s browsing data to third-party, ad-related tracking services like Adometry.