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Respecting people’s privacy

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Data seems to be all companies care about at the moment. Facebook and Google’s business models are centred on the collection of their users’ data, but I see more and more smaller organisations obsessing over data, or at least data collection.

I can see why it’s useful, of course. As a designer, I know that data can be a driver for change, or to inform or validate a design. But for me, personally, I just don’t care about bounce rates, time on each page, or what browser and operating system visitors are using. I write my blog posts, and I know my users will have a decent experience, as my website:

  • loads very fast
  • uses progressive enhancement to ensure it works in as many places as possible
  • responds nicely to any screen size (yes, even Apple Watch!)
  • can be navigated easily by keyboard
  • is accessible to screen readers and other assistive technology
  • respects users’ system-wide preferences (Dark Mode, reducing motion, etc.)

Email campaigns are another place I see a lot of often unnecessary data collection. I don’t need to know where people are when they open my newsletter (that’s creepy…), or even if they open it at all! I know that my users want it (they have to confirm their email when they subscribe) and the newsletter itself:

  • is a simple, resilient, single column layout that works across every common email app (or web app)
  • is responsive, to maintain legibility on smaller screens
  • respects preferences like Dark Mode
  • uses semantic markup, so is accessible to screen readers

The only metrics I tend keep an eye on, across my website and newsletter are:

  • the number of unique visitors I get on my website
  • the total number of pages viewed
  • which pages on my site get the most visitors
  • how many newsletter subscribers I have

Those things are all pretty high-level and unobtrusive, and are thanks to the excellent hosting/emailing services I use.

The services I use

I’ve been using Netlify Analytics for a good while now, and even their fairly basic metrics are more than I need! But I’m happy that they don’t do anything nefarious:

Netlify Analytics is fully GDPR compliant. You get the data you’d expect without passing it on to a third party or making your users feel tracked across the internet

My newsletter emails are sent with Buttondown. It’s a neat little service that where every email is essentially a Markdown document. It’s GDPR compliant and:

Buttondown collects … IP addresses, open and click events, client information. Buttondown sends that to absolutely nobody … And if you want to completely opt out, you can

I have opted out.

A nice side effect of not tracking visitors to my website is that I don’t need one of those awful, intrusive cookie banners or overlays. Visitors to my site can get on with reading without any barriers.

Consider what you need

I’m not saying don’t use in-depth analytics to measure the use of your website, success of a social media promotion, or effectiveness of an email campaign; I just think that privacy-invasive tracking code is too frequently dumped in without a second thought, and often left there long beyond its intended use (all those short-lived Facebook and LinkedIn marketing campaigns…).

None of the information gathered by companies like Google stays with them – it’s all sold on to their customers, and their business models depend on that. The alternatives may not always be free, but if they respect users’ privacy I think it’s worth the outlay.

Like anything I approach, I start with the minimal. If I find I need more (‘need’ being the operative word), I’ll add more, but only when I reach that point, never before.

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