How to find and remove PII from Google Analytics

Table of contents for how to find and remove PII from Google Analytics

  1. Introduction to PII
  2. How to identify if PII is captured in Google Analytics
  3. Steps to create a custom report to identify the PII
  4. How to remove PII from Google Analytics
  5. Understanding the custom task code

Introduction to PII

PII stands for personally identifiable information. Google considers any information that reveals the identity, contact or location of an individual as PII information.

To protect users’ privacy, Google’s policies consider that this information should not be passed into reports.

Below are some of the information which is considered as PII:

  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Social security number
  • Full names of the users
  • Precise location of users

Note: PII is different from EU General Data Protection Guidelines (GDPR).

If Google identifies that PII is being collected or sent to your reports, it can terminate your account. Initially, it would notify you saying that your Google Analytics account is collecting PII data and if it is not deleted, then it can terminate the account.

Based on your location, your users’ location and type of breach there can be fines as well. You should contact your legal team in that case.

 
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How to identify if PII is captured in Google Analytics

Step-1: Log in to your Google Analytics account.

Step-2: Click on the ‘Behaviour’ tab on the left-hand menu.

Step-3: Now, select site content and ‘All Pages’.

Step-4: Then filter for ‘@’ in the pages report to check if any email addresses have been captured.

Step-5: The results will show up If there are any email addresses captured in reports.

Similarly, you can also run the same validation in the events reports as well.

Below are some of the regex format that you can use to identify the PII in Google Analytics reports:

To identify full email ID formats:

([a-zA-Z0-9_\.-]+)@([\da-zA-Z\.-]+)\.([a-zA-Z\.]{2,6})

To identify social security numbers:

(\d{3}-?\d{2}-?\d{4})

To identify addresses:

(drive|street|road|dr.|po box|rd.)

To identify phone numbers:

(\d{3}-?\d{3}-?\d{4})

To identify names:

(fn|ln|lastname|firstname|name|fullname)

You can use these regex, shared in different reports like all pages, events reports or even you can create a custom report, to identify if any PII is captured in the reports.

Additionally, you can also create a custom report to identify any PII information captured in your reports.

Let’s see one example to identify the PII captured by using custom reports.

Steps to create a custom report to identify the PII

Step-1: Log in to your Google Analytics account.

Step-2: Click on the ‘Customization’ tab from the left-hand menu.

Step-3: Select ‘Custom reports’ from the options available.

Step-4: Click on the ‘New custom report’ tab, as shown below:

Step-5: In ‘Report content’, let’s select ‘Page’ as dimensions and ‘Page views’ as metrics. Note that we are checking page reports to check for PII, you can even check in events and other reports as well.

Step-6: We can use any of the regex mentioned above to validate PII, let’s consider the email address regex:

([a-zA-Z0-9_\.-]+)@([\da-zA-Z\.-]+)\.([a-zA-Z\.]{2,6}).

In the filter set up the configuration as shown below.

Step-7: If any PII is captured in reports, this report would help to identify it.

How to remove PII from Google Analytics

The best way to remove PII information from Google Analytics is to follow this custom task implementation suggested by Simo.

Follow below steps in order to add this custom task feature in Google Tag Manager

Step-1: Log in to your Google Tag Manager account

Step-2: Click on ‘Variables’ from the left-hand menu.

Step-3: Click on ‘New’ under User-defined variables’.

Step-4: Click on the pencil icon in the variable configuration.

Step-5: From the variable type, choose ‘Custom JavaScript’.

Step-6: Let us name this variable as ‘JS-Remove PII load from Hit Payload’ and copy the custom JavaScript from GTM guru Simo and paste it in the variable.

Step-7: Now, you can navigate to the global Google Analytics variable in GTM.

Step-8: Click on ‘Edit’ and under ‘More settings’, select ‘Add Field’ as shown below:

Step-9: In the field name enter ‘customTask’ and in the field value select the ‘Variable’ that we have created.

Step-10: Click ‘Save’ and publish the changes in Google Tag Manager.

Understanding the custom task code

The first part of the code configuration object as shown below:

 var piiRegex = [{
       name: 'EMAIL',
       regex: /.{4}@.{4}/g 

It’s basically an array with two properties: name and regex. In the above example name is email and regex is to check for email address.

The first parameter is to replace the string value after ‘REDACTED’. If the name is ‘EMAIL’ and is captured in your Google Analytics, once the custom task is implemented it would be shown as ‘[REDACTED EMAIL]’ in your Google Analytics reports wherever PII data was removed.

The second parameter is the regex, you can create your own regex or use the regex we have used above to find any kind of PII (email, phone numbers, SSN,ect)

When this custom task code is implemented in GTM, it runs for all the payloads and validates if any PII is captured and replaces with the configuration array that we have created.

I hope this article was helpful to find any PII captured and to remove PII in Google Analytics reports. Also, make sure that you audit your accounts on a regular basis.

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About the Author

Himanshu Sharma

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