Clarifying the Analytics Data Retention Settings
I must admit that the new Google Analytics documentation about the GDPR specific Data Retention setting is confusing! The assumption from many clients is that ALL data older than NN months is going to be deleted i.e. a cliff-edge effect where any report older than say 26 months is going to be empty. The setting is important, but its effect is not a dramatic as you might first think…
For the below screenshot, taken from the Admin area of Google Analytics, I have highlighted the 3 key phrases to focus on:
The Settings Clarified
1. Data retention is a “per user” value defined as a period of inactivity from your visitors. Data that is inactive will be deleted after a certain time period has elapsed.
2. These settings do NOT effect aggregate reports which are the vast majority of GA reports. That is, unless you are doing very user-specific tracking (why?), you will be hard pushed to notice any reporting impact.
3. “Reset on new activity” means that the data retention period is reset if your visitor returns. Think of reset as renewed.
If a visitor does not return to your site for 26 months, their user-specific data is dropped i.e. the cookieID is removed (and some other user-specific identifiers), and so their individual click-stream data cannot be stitched back together.
However, as per point 2, the vast majority of Google Analytics reports are preprocessed and therefore do not make use of click-stream data – for reasons of data privacy that date back to to when Urchin/GA was formed.
Conversely, if a visitor was to return to your website every month, their data retention setting is updated for another 26 months. So if they continued to return each month, their user-specific data would never be deleted.
Please let me know if this has clarified i.e. put your mind to rest, the issue for you…
BTW, if you are interested in what I am building in this space – an automated GA data auditing tool – visit verified-data.com.