Google Consent Mode Explained

What is Google Consent Mode

Google Consent Mode is a tool designed to help website owners manage how Google services on their websites use cookies and collect data in the European Union (EU). It was developed in response to EU privacy regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the ePrivacy Directive.

The main function of Google Consent Mode is to allow websites to adjust the behavior of Google services based on the consent status of users. If a user does not consent to certain types of cookies or data collection, Google services like Google Analytics or Google Ads will automatically adjust their behavior to respect this choice.

For example, if a user does not consent to using performance cookies, Google Analytics will not store cookies on the user’s device and will only collect basic usage data. Similarly, if a user does not accept advertising cookies, Google Ads will not use cookies to personalize ads.

Google Consent Mode integrates with third-party consent management solutions, allowing website owners to offer clear and easy-to-understand choices to users about how their data is used. This helps websites comply with EU privacy laws while still maintaining the ability to collect important data and display relevant advertising.

In summary, Google Consent Mode is a vital tool for ensuring that Google services on websites comply with EU privacy regulations while respecting users’ privacy preferences.

Introducing our free Google Consent Mode checker, which helps website owners ensure compliance with EU privacy laws by offering clear choices to users about data usage. Google Consent Mode integrates with third-party consent management solutions, allowing for data collection and relevant advertising while respecting users’ privacy preferences. Simplify the implementation of Google services on your website and maintain compliance with EU regulations.

If a user does not accept cookies, how do GA4 (Google Analytics 4) and Google Ads operate to measure through the consent mode?

When a user does not accept cookies, both GA4 (Google Analytics 4) and Google Ads adjust their operations to comply with the user’s consent preferences as managed through Google Consent Mode.

  1. Google Analytics 4 (GA4):
    • If a user opts out of cookies, GA4 enters a restricted data processing mode. In this mode, GA4 does not use cookies to track user-specific data.
    • GA4 will stop collecting data that is typically stored in cookies, such as user IDs or IP addresses. Instead, it will only collect basic interaction data in an aggregated and anonymized form. This means GA4 will still provide insights on website traffic and user interactions, but without the granularity and personalization that come with cookie-based tracking.
    • Additionally, GA4 is designed to work with non-cookie-based methods like machine learning to fill in the gaps in data where cookie-based tracking is unavailable.
  2. Google Ads:
    • Similar to GA4, if users do not consent to cookies, Google Ads will not use cookies for personalized advertising.
    • This means that ad personalization and conversion tracking are limited. Ads will be less targeted and may not be based on the user’s previous website behavior.
    • However, Google Ads can still show generic ads that are not personalized based on the user’s cookies. It may also use contextual information (like the content of the current webpage) for ad targeting.

What data does GA4 collect when a user rejects cookies and the consent mode is active?

When a user rejects cookies and the consent mode is active, GA4 (Google Analytics 4) still collects data, but it does so in a more limited and privacy-compliant manner. Here’s what GA4 typically collects in this scenario:

  1. Aggregated and Anonymized Data: GA4 will collect basic data about user interactions with the website in an aggregated and anonymized form. This includes data like page views, time spent on the site, and general user flow through the website.
  2. Non-Personal Identifiers: GA4 may use non-personal identifiers, such as hashed strings, to gather some level of engagement data without tying it back to a specific user.
  3. Contextual Information: GA4 can collect contextual information such as the type of device used, browser information, and the general geographic location (like city or region) derived from IP addresses. However, GA4 will anonymize IP addresses to prevent the identification of individual users.
  4. Event Data: Event data like button clicks, video plays, and form submissions can still be collected. These events provide insights into how users interact with the site’s content.
  5. Conversion Tracking (Limited): For sites that use GA4 for conversion tracking (like e-commerce sites), some basic conversion data might still be collected, like the occurrence of a purchase, but without the detailed user journey leading to that conversion.

Exactly what data is tracked and stored?

Here’s a detailed look at the type of data collected and how it’s stored:

  1. Type of Data Collected:
    • Page Views and Interactions: GA4 tracks basic interactions like page views, scroll depth, and site navigation patterns.
    • Event Data: This includes interactions like button clicks, video plays, and form submissions. These events are tracked without linking them to a specific user.
    • Contextual Data: Information about the type of device, browser type, and approximate location based on IP address (which is anonymized).
    • Session Data: Duration of the visit and number of pages viewed per session, without linking this data to a specific user.
  2. Anonymization and Aggregation:
    • IP Address Anonymization: GA4 anonymizes IP addresses, meaning it does not store the full IP address of the user.
    • No Personal Identifiers: GA4 does not collect or store any data that could personally identify an individual, such as user IDs, email addresses, or any other personal data.
  3. Storage and Processing:
    • Data Aggregation: The data collected is aggregated, meaning it’s combined with data from other users to provide a general overview of site traffic and user behavior.
    • Non-Personalized and Secure Storage: The data is stored in a non-personalized format, ensuring that it cannot be traced back to any individual user. Google also employs robust security measures to protect this data from unauthorized access.
  4. Limited User Journey Tracking:
    • Without cookies, tracking the full user journey or path through the site is limited. GA4 focuses on session-based data and interactions during a single visit.
  5. Compliance with Privacy Regulations:
    • GA4’s approach to data collection and storage in this mode is designed to be compliant with GDPR and other privacy regulations. It respects the user’s choice regarding cookies while still providing website owners with insights.

Regarding Google Ads tracking conversions. How can Google Ads track conversions if a user rejects cookies? Take in mind that GCLID is a personal data

When a user rejects cookies, tracking conversions in Google Ads become more challenging, especially since the Google Click Identifier (GCLID) is considered personal data. However, there are alternative methods that Google Ads can use to track conversions without relying on personal data like the GCLID:

  1. Model-Based Attribution:
    • Google Ads can use machine learning models to estimate conversions. This method relies on aggregated and anonymized data from users who have consented, applying these patterns to predict conversions for users who haven’t consented to cookies.
    • This approach doesn’t require personal data, based on general trends and behaviors observed across the site.
  2. First-Party Data:
    • Businesses can use their own first-party data to track conversions. For example, if a user completes a purchase or a sign-up on the website, the site can record this conversion without needing to rely on GCLID or cookies.
    • This method tracks conversions based on actions taken directly on the website, which can be relayed back to Google Ads without needing to identify the user personally.
  3. Contextual Conversion Tracking:
    • Google Ads can track conversions based on the context of the ad click. For instance, if an ad leads directly to a sale or a specific action on a website, this can be counted as a conversion.
    • This method relies on the context of the user’s actions (like clicking an ad and then making a purchase) rather than tracking them across different sites.
  4. Conversion Modeling:
    • Google Ads may employ conversion modeling, which uses historical data and algorithms to estimate conversions that might not be directly observable due to cookie restrictions.
    • This approach relies on patterns and trends in the data, rather than individual tracking, to estimate conversions.
  5. Enhanced Conversion Tracking:
    • This is a feature in Google Ads where advertisers can send hashed, first-party conversion data (like an email address) from their websites to Google. This data is anonymized and helps Google match conversions without relying on GCLID.

Google Consent Mode is an API that adapts the functioning of Google products to the cookie choices made by website users.

This allows you to continue to measure conversions on a website while respecting users’ consent for advertising cookies or analytics cookies.

Yes, but these alternative measurement methods it offers still collect data from users despite having refused or declined their consent, so they are not GDPR compliant. For this reason, you have to make sure, you’re working with a really GDPR Compliant Web Analytics.

So… What is Google Consent Mode?

According to Google:

Consent mode allows you to adjust how your Google tags behave based on the consent status of your users and enables Google to model for gaps in conversions. You can indicate whether consent has been granted for analytics and ads cookies. Google’s tags will dynamically adapt, only utilizing cookies for the specified purposes when consent has been given by the user. Using consent signals, we apply conversion modeling to recover lost conversions due to consent changes.

What does this mean?

This consent mode allows campaigns to be optimized to meet business objectives while respecting visitors’ privacy preferences.

Okay, that’s what Google says, but where is what we are interested in, what we need to consider?

When visitors refuse consent, the tags send signals (or pings) to Google instead of storing cookies. This might seem correct to us as it does not store cookie information, but if we look at it, it is tracking our conversions. In the end, this comes to the same thing: tracking our movements but from another angle for the same purpose, to fill us with third-party advertising.

If we look at the following reading, rescued from the Google blog, about how consent mode data is used:

“Let’s say someone visits your website and makes their consent selection for using ads cookies on your cookie consent banner. With Consent Mode, your Google tags will be able to determine whether or not permission has been given for your site to use cookies for advertising purposes for that user. If a user consents, conversion measurement reporting continues normally. If a user does not consent, the relevant Google tags will adjust accordingly and not use ads cookies, instead measuring conversions more aggregately.” Source: https://blog.google/products/marketingplatform/360/measure-conversions-while-respecting-user-consent-choices/

Here we find the statement that they are still handling the data. This is further developed in the following article:https://brianclifton.com/blog/2022/03/14/google-consent-mode-breaks-privacy-laws/

It gives us arguments about the irony in Google’s maneuvers to collect data even when a user has explicitly stated NO in consent mode. A surprising thing, he says, if we consult the official documentation. (Consent Mode on websites and mobile apps – Analytics Help). Acting on their particular logic to collect “anonymized” data from non-consenting users to model the impact of non-consent.

Taking a last look at the latter, although there is the possibility of rejecting cookies, there is also data capture, which brings us to the same point we mentioned before, copying and pasting the paragraph we referred to “Which in the end comes to the same thing, tracking our movements but from another angle for the same purposes, to fill us with third party advertising.”

How can your website avoid cookie consent banners?

Use privacy-friendly analytics services: Websites can use services such as SEAL Metrics that are privacy-friendly and don’t require cookies, even though GDPR doesn’t apply.

Privacy-friendly analytics respects users’ privacy by collecting only the data necessary to analyze user behavior and not collecting or storing any personal or sensitive information. It also ensures that the data is securely stored and access is restricted to only authorized personnel.

Google Consent Mode: Technical Implementation Details in Google Tag Manager (GTM)

Google Consent Mode’s integration with Google Tag Manager offers a nuanced approach to managing user consent. Unlike a standalone consent management platform, GTM requires an external system to gather and resolve user consent. This integration is crucial for ensuring compliance with privacy regulations. When setting up Consent Mode in GTM, it’s essential to configure both the default settings (which operate while awaiting user consent) and the updated settings (which come into play once consent is resolved). This dual configuration ensures that Google tags adhere to the user’s consent preferences at all times.

Utilizing the gtag() API for Consent Mode

The gtag() API plays a pivotal role in managing how Google tags interact with user consent. By leveraging this API, you can dictate whether Google’s advertising and analytics tags can access browser storage based on the user’s consent. This control is particularly important for complying with privacy laws. The API allows for the restriction or allowance of both advertising and analytics storage, ensuring that Google Analytics, for instance, does not read or write first-party cookies without proper consent.

Restricting and Updating Storage

A key feature of Google Consent Mode is its ability to restrict storage for advertising and analytics purposes. When a user does not consent to the use of cookies, Google Consent Mode ensures that advertising storage is not accessed and analytics cookies are not utilized. This restriction is crucial for maintaining user privacy. However, it’s also important to understand the process of updating these consent settings. As user preferences change, the Consent Mode settings must be updated to reflect these changes, thereby ensuring that Google tags remain in compliance with the user’s current consent status.

Limitations and Future Improvements in Google Tag Manager

While Google Tag Manager supports Consent Mode, its capabilities are currently limited. For instance, the current version of GTM does not expose consent status in the dataLayer, nor does it fully integrate consent awareness into its custom template APIs. These limitations highlight areas for potential improvement. Looking forward, we can anticipate more robust integration of Consent Mode in GTM, offering a more seamless and comprehensive approach to managing user consent.

Google Consent Mode & the GDPR

The GDPR has significantly altered the landscape of digital marketing and data collection, demanding a shift towards greater transparency. In this context, Google Consent Mode is not just a compliance tool; it’s a strategic asset. It allows businesses to respect user privacy choices, which in turn enhances brand reputation and builds user trust. By using Consent Mode, businesses can develop nuanced consent strategies that lead to better user engagement. This is not just good for compliance; it’s good for business.

Innovative businesses are already leveraging Google Consent Mode to create advanced consent strategies. These strategies go beyond the basic compliance requirements, offering users more control and transparency. This approach has shown to improve user engagement and trust, ultimately benefiting the business. Real-world examples and case studies demonstrate how Consent Mode can be used for compliance and as a tool for enhancing the overall user experience.

Looking towards the future, data privacy and user consent are likely to become even more central to digital marketing and analytics. Tools like Google Consent Mode are at the forefront of this shift, setting new standards for how businesses interact with user data. As regulations evolve, staying ahead in privacy practices is not just about avoiding penalties; it’s about being a leader in ethical data use.

Discover the benefits of Seal Metrics cookieless tracking

Google Consent Mode Analytics

Google Consent Mode represents a significant advancement in how businesses can harmonize their use of analytics with the growing demands for user privacy. This tool redefines the relationship between website analytics and user consent, particularly in collecting and using data. With Consent Mode, businesses can configure their analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, to respect the consent choices of their users. This approach ensures that user data is handled responsibly, aligning with privacy preferences and regulations.

The integration of Google Consent Mode with analytics tools like Google Analytics is a game-changer. It allows for the collection of essential website data without compromising on user privacy. When a user opts out of certain types of data collection, Consent Mode adjusts the behavior of analytics tags accordingly. This means that businesses can still gather valuable insights from their website traffic, even when full consent is not granted. The data collected in this manner is aggregated and anonymized, ensuring compliance with privacy laws while still providing useful analytics.

One of the key benefits of using Google Consent Mode with analytics is the balance it strikes between data collection and user privacy. Businesses no longer have to choose between gathering data and respecting user consent. This balance is crucial in today’s digital landscape, where both data-driven decision-making and privacy concerns are paramount. By implementing Consent Mode, businesses can demonstrate their commitment to privacy, enhancing user trust and loyalty.

However, using Google Consent Mode with analytics tools requires careful implementation and management. Businesses must ensure that their Consent Mode configuration aligns with their data collection policies and privacy commitments. This might involve technical adjustments and a clear understanding of how Consent Mode interacts with analytics tags.

Nowadays, SEAL Metrics is a privacy-first analytics solution that will help to track 100% of your traffic and conversions. It’s an excellent Google Analytics alternative, and even SEAL Metrics can be a perfectly compatible solution to put your GA4 data into context.

SEAL Metrics can be our clients’ only web analytics platform, but it’s totally compatible with other web analytics, like GA4.

Your business data can’t depend on a single partner under the eye of the EU and is not tracking 100% of your traffic.

Does this mean that you can still measure conversions without your tags violating the consents given by your users?