If you’re a user of the free version of Google Analytics, and if you have a free Google Analytics property collecting hits exclusively from the Google Analytics Services SDK (Android or iOS), you might have recently received an email that looks like this (emphasis mine):
In a nutshell, Google is now starting the process of deprecating the “legacy” Google Analytics for Mobile Apps. This covers all data collection SDKs that do not have the word “Firebase” in them. As such, also the “Google Analytics” tags in Google Tag Manager for mobile apps will be impacted.
Google is most likely doing this because they want to focus on Firebase Analytics as the new paradigm for Google’s mobile app analytics.
For reference, here’s the email body:
Dear Google Analytics customer,
You are receiving this email because you are in the first wave of customers who have been identified as users of the older style of Google Analytics for mobile apps reporting and the Google Analytics Services SDK. Specifically, we are notifying you regarding your Google Analytics property(ies) (, ID: UA-XXXXXX-YY: ).
We want to let you know that in October 2019 we will begin to sunset our Google Analytics for mobile apps reporting and the Google Analytics Services SDK. We are investing our resources in the latest style of app reporting in Google Analytics that works in conjunction with Firebase – Google’s integrated app developer platform. As such, the following will take place:
- In 2019, we will begin to decommission properties that receive data exclusively from the Google Analytics Services SDK.
- Data collection and processing for such properties will stop on October 31, 2019.
- Reporting access through our UI and API access will remain available for these properties’ historical data until January 31, 2020.
- After our service is fully turned down, these properties will no longer be accessible via our Google Analytics UI or API, and their data will be removed from Google Analytics servers. You will receive further notification when this time nears.
- At this time, no Analytics 360 properties are impacted by these changes.
We want to give you plenty of time to make the transition. The good news is that the latest solution using the Firebase SDK is even more intuitive and includes free and unlimited event reporting to meet the needs of app-centric businesses. We’ve invested heavily to make this solution best-in-class, with new features and capabilities rolling-out continually. Additionally, our offering is closely integrated with other Google products and features to help grow your app business like Crashlytics, AdMob and Remote Config.
Getting started with our latest app reporting features is simple and straightforward. Here’s how. For additional information on our new Google Analytics app reporting, visit the Help Center.
- The Google Analytics Team
What this means
As you can see from the email, only free Google Analytics properties are impacted. Furthermore, only those properties that collect data exclusively with the mobile analytics tracking schema will be impacted.
I’m not sure what the actual triggers for identifying these hits will be. Most likely GA will look for specific dimensions being sent with the request to
/collect, and use that to determine whether or not the hit was a hit intended to be collected in mobile app views.
This has two implications.
If you are using Google Analytics 360 properties, then you are off the hook, for now. There has been no indication of a deprecation timeline for GA360.
UPDATE! It has been confirmed that the step (2) above will not work if you’ve already received the deprecation message. In other words, if your property has already been flagged for deprecation, no amount of trickery will prevent that - it’s on its way out.
Neither of these implications is one to swear by, however. There’s no telling if a similar timeline for GA360 will be revealed in the coming months, and sending web hits to the mobile app property might be something that won’t work down the line, either.
First of all, on a personal note, I’m very glad about this announcement. I’ve considered the “mobile version” of Google Analytics to be flawed for a long time, as it relies on the paradigm outlined by web data collection too much. It’s difficult trying to pigeon hole the fluctuations of mobile app usage into the constricted schema of GA with its screenviews, sessions, and campaign attribution.
At the same time, the push to Firebase won’t be gentle. It’s a very different approach to analytics, as it revolves around the duality of Users and Events. Thus, it harks back to hit stream analytics which, while providing more flexibility to analysis itself, does make simple exploratory analytics more difficult to do than what you might be used to with the Google Analytics UI and reporting API. The Firebase team has been working hard to make the user interface more intuitive, so usability is something they are certainly paying attention to.
Currently, Firebase has some strict quotas for custom parameters in data collection. This looks crippling especially for those of us used to the 200 Custom Dimensions provided by Google Analytics 360. I assume that Firebase will need to address these limitations before offering their solution as a migration-ready upgrade from the legacy GA mobile tracking.
For now, I recommend that you start working on a migration plan for your mobile Google Analytics tracking, even if you are using Google Analytics 360. Moving from GA to Firebase isn’t as easy as flipping a switch, and you should familiarize with the latter as soon as possible.
If you’ve been using the latest version of Google Tag Manager for mobile, the migration path (at least with regard to implementation) is a bit smoother, since you’ll already be using Firebase Analytics for dispatching the events. But if you’re anything like me, you’ve prioritized Google Analytics tag setups over the detail of the Firebase events themselves, so you’ll most likely need to address the implementation anyway.
While working on the migration plan, it’s a good idea to look at other players in the field, too. I’d be remiss not to mention Snowplow Analytics, since its approach to the hit stream model might be very tempting to explore while thinking of alternatives to GA.
We’re in for interesting times, as this announcement will certainly impact lots of users. Let’s hope Google keeps us in the loop and tells us more about this transition in the coming months!