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Navigating the New Era of User Privacy by Understanding Google’s Consent Mode

Enhance user privacy compliance with Google's Consent Mode. Navigate GDPR, CCPA, and LGPD seamlessly for personalized digital experiences.
google consent mode

In the ever-evolving digital landscape, the importance of user consent has become paramount. With privacy regulations tightening globally, businesses face the challenge of balancing compliance with seamless user experience. Google’s introduction of Consent Mode in Google Analytics 4 (GA4) marks a significant step in this direction, offering a nuanced approach to user data handling. In essence, this framework allows websites to collect user’s consent permission for the multi-purpose use of cookies.

Recently, in November of 2023, Google itself organized an event to showcase new updates and improvements to Consent Mode, calling for its second version, V2, which online advertisers must implement until the spring of this year, 2024, otherwise being subjected to heavy fines.

But what is consent mode?

Everyone that has accessed a website in the last couple of years has, hopefully, come in contact with Consent Mode (CM), even if they may be oblivious to it. Essentially, this feature gathers the permission, or denial, of a user, to collect and track their data and in that way, adjust how Google’s tags and tools behave according to the consent status.

First of all, CM will cooperate with the website’s Consent Management Platform (CMP) and receive the consent or lack of it from the website’s visitors. For this reason, the performance of the website in terms of analytics, ads and third party tags will be tailored to the consent choice of the user.

In the case in which the user refuses to give consent, what happens is that no cookies are stored, instead pings are sent to Google with minimal information about the user behavior on the website, trying in this way to fill the missing data. The data passed in the form of pings is then used in machine learning models to estimate metrics like unconsented user count and even conversions, in fact, for declined consent, anonymised conversions are noted, without a cookie.This data is then used to create a modeled CVR for unobserved conversions.
Furthermore, it is also possible for businesses to opt-out of cookieless pings via GTM settings in this way ensuring that tracking is strictly aligned with user consent, providing an additional layer of privacy control.

The way this works is especially relevant for websites that make use of Google tools in order to gather insights (Google Analytics) or even to advertise (Google Ads). In fact, this is also related to the fact that there are 5 consent types that will impact user experience on the website:

1. Ad Storage:

Enables cookies referring to advertising.

2. Analytics Storage:

Enables cookies related to analytics.

3. Functionality Storage:

Enables storage that supports the functionality of the website or app.

4. Personalization Storage:

Enables storage related to personalization.

5. Security Storage:

Enables storage related to security such as authentication functionality, fraud prevention, and other user protection.

In GA4, Consent Mode operates by altering the behavior of tracking tags based on user consent. For instance, ad_storage consent affects data collection for Google Signals, while the analytics_storage consent influences core tracking activities. The interplay between these consents determines the extent of data tracking and processing, ensuring compliance with user preferences.

Recently, Google has even shared with the public that the lack of compliance with Consent Mode, more than implicating heavy fines for online businesses, will also prevent the creation of personalized ads. Since no data about new users is gathered, after March 2024, all components of personalized targeting are affected, this means ads, audiences, remarketing strategies and even reporting.

Moreover, this technical framework is highly customizable which allows businesses to comply with laws such as GDPR, CCPA or LGPD and users to have more control over their online privacy. As these sorts of regulations continue to evolve, tools like Consent Mode will become indispensable in crafting user-centric and privacy-aware digital experiences.

Different ways to implement Consent Mode but in every single one of them, in the background,  javascript tags are necessary so that they can interact with the user’s consent preferences in order to modify the behavior of Google’s services accordingly. 

Implementation complexity when it comes to Google Consent Mode

1. Integrated CMP’s:

By far, the easiest way is just to use the recommended and integrated CMPs from Google’s documentation.

2. Google Tag Manager:

A setup of moderate complexity can be done via GTM.

3. Google tag/SDK:

Customized consent mode setups done by developers, which represent the highest level of complexity. In this scenario, web analysts have almost no control.

Whichever option is chosen by businesses, it is of utmost importance to remember that knowledge of Consent Mode parameters and their logic is necessary to make a successful implementation.

As the reader may understand by now, Consent Mode is primarily focused on Google’s own services and tools, hence it does not manage consent for other platforms services and/or scripts. In turn, This feature applies to websites via Google’s global site tag (gatg.js) and Google Tag Manager (GTM).

Look here for more technical approach.

And what is CMP?

Furthermore, alongside Consent Mode, there’s another tool that is mentioned consecutively when discussing these matters: Consent Management Platform (CMP). CMP, in contrast to CM, is used in a wide range of applications and services, not just Google’s, and this system obtains, stores and manages user consents on a website.

When we speak of CMP we are referring to the user interface, usually the pop-up banner, where users are prompted to choose their preferences on the subject of consent. Here the user will have a say on which, if any, cookies and tracking technologies to allow. This includes performance, ads, analytics and essential cookies that will inadvertently impact the user’s experience on the website.

This being said, in terms of implementation, the CMP has to be integrated with the infrastructure of the website, in this way making sure that no form of tracking or cookies are loaded before the users have the chance to state their consent.

In short, while Consent Mode is not a standalone CMP, it seamlessly integrates with various CMPs to streamline consent management and in Google Tag Manager businesses can manage consent settings with ease, customizing tracking mechanisms in line with user preferences.

Lastly, from March 2024 the implementation of Consent Mode is essential to comply with privacy regulations all around the world. It will allow online businesses to avoid unnecessary fines and maintain their marketing strategies by using personalized ads.

Click here for Best practices and consent management platform integrations.

Joana is a Data Analyst/Scientist, proficient in Python, Machine Learning, Statistical Analysis, MySQL and Tableau, with proven experience in marketing and communications which can be applied in perceiving the business goal of the data-driven projects.

She has developed deep technical knowledge in marketing and data analysis and also has strong problem solving skills and critical thinking. Her curiosity and fast learning nature makes her an avid explorer of new technologies and proactive setter of automation of processes.

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