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Google releases add-on to block its own analytics

With a nod toward user privacy, Google's new add-on will stop certain data from being sent from PCs when visiting a site that uses Google Analytics.

Stung by a laundry list of privacy concerns, Google has released a new add-on designed to block the information captured for Web sites that use its own Analytics service.

The new Google Analytics opt-out browser add-on stops the flow of certain data from your PC whenever you visit a site that uses Google Analytics. Web sites insert Google Analytics' JavaScript code into their pages to capture the IP address, browser version, operating system, ISP, and similar items from visiting PCs. That data is sent to Google and then accessible through a Web site's free Google Analytics (GA) account.

The beta version of the new opt-out add-on works with Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome.

To further address privacy issues, Google has released a new tweak to GA's JavaScript that lets Web site owners anonymize visiting IP addresses sent to Google. The new code sends only a portion of the IP address, removing the last octet. Since the general location of a site visitor can be identified by the IP address, this tweak prevents the full geographic information from being captured.

The company has been criticized over recent gaffes such as Google Buzz, which exposed data without users' permission, and Google Street View, which the company admitted inadvertently grabbed data from open Wi-Fi networks.

Google continually faces the challenge of capturing data for its own use but at the same time not ticking off people by violating their privacy. The new changes to Google Analytics may be good news to people who don't want their private data, even computer data, revealed. But it could leave Web sites in the lurch.

If people can turn off the Google Analytics tracking code, how do Web sites know they're getting reliable and accurate information in their Google Web stats? Google's blog even acknowledges that tweaking the JavaScript code to block out the last octet of the IP address would limit the accuracy of the geographic data captured.