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What to do about data retention in Google Analytics

If you’re an administrator of your company’s Google Analytics account, you’ll have had an email in the past couple of weeks about ‘granular data retention controls’ and deleting data. It’s the usual techno-legal babble which leaves mere mortals wondering what on earth it all means, and in particular you may be wondering: “is all my historic Google Analytics data about to be deleted?”

The short answer is “mainly – no”. But read on.

The implementation date of these changes gives a clue as to why they’re being introduced. May 25th is when GDPR comes into effect, and Google is giving Analytics users the ability to match the way the service archives data to their own user data policies. So what we can now do is to instruct Google Analytics to delete user-based data after a set time (just over a year, just over two years, etc).

The main thing to know is that aggregate data will be unaffected. By this I mean the number of visitors, the sources, etc. What you’ve now got the ability to delete is any data held at a user level, which means stats like ‘New and Returning Users’ and certain events which track specific visits. I suspect that for most Google Analytics users, the data falling off the system isn’t something they’d ever have wanted, years down the line.

The default setting, if you do nothing, is 26 months. There is a setting to not delete data (“don’t automatically expire”). However, if you deliberately choose this setting, it suggests you haven’t got policies in place to conform to GDPR requirements. So you can safely leave things unless you have a particular time frame which fits better with your policy.

“User and event data retention” settings can be found in Google Analytics under “Admin > Property > Tracking Info”.