Why Do We Need So Much Tracking? We Actually Don’t!

by Achim Haug

AirGradient had a very successful year 2023 thanks to our very strong and extremely positive community. At this turn of the year, I was thinking how can we actually give something back to them. Many people purchase our air quality monitors because they can run them totally locally and connect them with their local smart home systems, e.g. via ESPHome to Home Assistant without their data being outside their control. So for many of our customers, privacy is very important. That made us reflect, what -besides our open source hardware- we can actually do to give our community more privacy.

A lot it turns out!

So in the last 24 hours we implemented the following changes:

Replaced Google Analytics with Plausible

As most of us, when we initially setup our website, we slapped Google Analytics onto it without much thinking. I always found it to be quite overwhelming and could never really figure out how to use it beyond some basic analytics of how many visits we get and what are our most popular pages. I also always disliked the cookie banner that we need to implement when using Google Analytics.

So why the heck do we need to collect so much data if we don’t use it? Why not just collecting less?

After doing some search for the feature that we actually need, I was coming across Plausible, a privacy focused open-source analytics tool which actually ticked all the boxes.

It was super easy to implement and I could also import some of my old Google Analytics data. This changes also reduced our page size by nearly 100kb.

Disabled Email and Website Tracking in Mautic and Pipedrive

We use a self-hosted version of Mautic an open source marketing tool for our newsletters. It’s great for sending out bulk newsletters. Mautic also provides a tracking script for websites to actually track every visitor and profile them. We never really thought about the privacy implications because we did not do anything specifically with the data. Additionally, by default Mautic also adds a pixel to track mail openings and tracks clicks on links. So although it could be interesting data to look at, I don’t think it’s worth the privacy implications. Luckily, it is easy to remove these tracking ‘features’ in the Mautic configuration. Removing the script from our website had also the positive effect to increase our page load quite a bit.

We also disabled the email tracking features in Pipedrive a popular customer relationship management tool that we are using to communicate with our customers and partners.

Made our Online Shop more Privacy Focused

When our customers purchase air quality monitors from us, we use Ecwid as our online shop. A purchasing process obviously needs a lot of personally identifiable information as otherwise we would not be able to ship our products. We made sure that all privacy features, e.g. opt-in to our newsletter are enabled and that the shop shows a consent banner as it collects personal identifiable information. We also only load the shop scripts on the actual sub webpage and not on all pages of our website.

Working with a hosted 3rd party online shop integration, we do not have full control of the tracking that happens due to this integration. Furthermore, we also do not have control on the activities of the payment providers Stripe and Paypal that we use. So this will be something that we will further investigate in 2024 and see if we can improve the privacy of our customers in this area.

Discourse Online Forum

We use a self-hosted version of discourse for our community forum at forum.airgradient.com. Here we also removed Google Analytics and replaced it with Plausible. By using a selfhosted open source forum application, there weren’t any 3rd party dependencies and the standard privacy statement and terms of use from discourse already provides good information to the users.

New Privacy Statement

As a result of these changes, we also completely re-wrote our Privacy Policy and hopefully make it easy to understand how and when we collect personal identifiable information.

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