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Brad BlakePosted by:
Brad Blake, Director of New Media and Online Strategy

The web is changing quickly.  As I discussed in a previous post, we’re doing our best to use new tools and technologies to better inform, increase transparency, and give you more ways to have an impact on the policies that affect your life. However, even with all the new ‘stuff’ out there, we still need to keep our basic websites easy to use so you can find what you need as quickly and easily as possible.

One of the main ways site managers do that is by using statistics to help them understand how people are using their site.  While the commonwealth has been using some basic statistics, they can be difficult for our site managers to understand and use.  We need to do a better job and that requires using better tools.

To that end, we are considering the use of Google Analytics on Mass.gov, which requires the placement of cookies on your computer. Most websites use cookies, but that may sound like overreaching by your government.

So, we want to make sure we address any potential fears and misconceptions surrounding Google Analytics and cookies. And rest assured, if you don’t want a cookie placed on your computer, you can turn them off.

Please take a few moments to review these “FAQs” we’ve put together and let us know if anything needs more explanation or you have additional questions or concerns. Thanks in advance. We look forward to your input as we work to improve your online experience.

Why does the government need to track me at all? 

The government isn’t tracking you as a known, named individual. Instead, we are collecting information about your visit, without any associated personally identifiable information. Google Analytics doesn’t give us any information about you as a named person. It instead gives us information about anonymous users.

If you are a Massachusetts taxpayer, resident or citizen, this site belongs to you. We owe it to you to do our very best to make this site as good as it can be. To achieve that goal, we need to understand how visitors navigate this site: what parts of it they use, where our visitors originate, how long people spend on the site, and whether or not they can find new resources we have added.

Why is the government letting Google track what I’m doing online?

Tracking tools such as Google Analytics help us evaluate and monitor the effectiveness of our efforts. By using analytics, we can make “data-driven” decisions, instead of guessing what pages are useful to you.

There are plenty of analytics packages and services.  Why use Google?

Google Analytics is free, and provides us with a rich and useful set of data about anonymous user behavior that we can use to improve this site.

What information is Google collecting about me?

Google is collecting information about you as an anonymous user. Let’s say it recognizes you as “Anonymous user #3″. When you visit this site, Google will collect information such as: “Anonymous user #3 visited this site on Tuesday, August 18, 2009, at 9:36 AM; came to this site from the home page for the Registry of Motor vehicles; stayed at this site for 15 minutes; and spent most of his/her time at the page containing the Governor’s YouTube videos“.

How will Google use the information it collects on me?

Google Analytics provides the information it collects about you as an anonymous user to us. For more information about Google’s agreement with us about the data it collects from this site, see the Google Privacy Center and the Google Analytics Terms of Service.

OK, I still don’t like this. How can I opt to not be tracked?

Disable cookies on your browser. Different browsers have different ways to disable cookies.  Your browser likely has a “help” menu where you can search for how to disable cookies.  You can also try doing a web search for instructions.  Try “disabling cookies” and your browser type (Firefox, Internet Explorer, etc).

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