Just when you’d started to wrap your head around the issues to do with third party cookies and GDPR, along comes something else to befuddle you. Server side tracking isn’t a new idea, but as data privacy, data ownership and GDPR compliance become increasingly important, it’s fast becoming a more attractive option to businesses reliant on the insights that data analytics can provide.

Tracking data is essential for many businesses in the digital sphere, but if you’re not a data genius you can be entirely forgiven for not having thought too hard about how this actually works. At what point is data collected? Directly from clients? Via a processor? What are the issues with these solutions?

We wouldn’t want to describe what follows as an idiot's guide, per se, but it’s certainly useful for anyone who feels they could do with a bit of a primer about the issues at stake. Read on.

OK. First things first. What IS server side tracking?

Simply put, it’s one way that data can be collected for analytics purposes. But of course, before it can be analysed, data needs to be tracked somehow, and the question is at what point this happens. Server side tracking means that this data is drawn directly from the user’s browser to - you’ve guessed it - your server, from where it can get processed.

So it’s server side tracking as opposed to…..?

Client side tracking (which is the standard practice right now). Here, data collected for analytics purposes is transferred from the user’s browser to third parties like Facebook or Google Analytics directly.

What’s the issue with that then?

In one word: security. The recent issues with Google Analytics and their compliance (or not) with GDPR guidance has prompted many to scrutinise security of such arrangements.

As a case in point, third party cookies illustrate this issue pretty well. Cookies have been key to tracking activities, but, of course, third party cookies are in flux ever since Google announced back in 2020 that it would be phasing out this technology (though this isn’t likely to happen until 2023), and this uncertainty has forced people to reconsider alternatives.

“Cookies are commonly processed by Javascript code and their data sent utilising tracking ‘pixels’ which have been magically built into your website by the coding elves. It’s these things which allow companies to see what their clients are doing, enable ads to be served to appropriate audiences, and remember what your users have clicked on. All the stuff, in short, which makes the browsing experience trackable, and enables you to respond more effectively to users’ behaviour, needs and expectations.” - Dragutin Miletic, CTO at smartocto

Server side tracking adds a layer of security, essential under the GDPR regulations

It’s easy to see why this kind of technology has been vital for advertisers - and why security concerns may ultimately have ramifications on business efficacy.

With server side tracking your client data goes through you first, before it goes to the data processing layer (Google Analytics, Facebook, smartocto). This gives you - the client - an added layer of security, essential under the GDPR regulations: you maintain control of your data. And - if that wasn’t enough - it moves the act of processing from the consumer’s device, to the cloud.

Can this help with GDPR compliance?

It gives you - and by extension your users - the reassurance that data is kept, controlled and managed within your organisation, without the risk of it being sold or moved out of the European region. It’s no coincidence that Server Side Tracking is being innovated within this area.

What are the upsides to switching to (or using) server side tracking?

  • It gives you greater control of what data is processed, and how
  • It improves the quality of your data as you’re not affected by ad blockers
  • It is a GDPR compliant solution - you stay responsible for your data
  • It’s speedier. Because the processing load is moved from device to cloud, apps and devices will see an improvement in their performance making for a better user experience

How about the downsides?

  • Client side tracking has long been the norm: some platforms may only support this type of tracking
  • It’s likely you’ll need specialist support to set up and maintain a server side tracking system

What does this have to do with smartocto?

We’ve been working on adopting this solution after a few clients requested this approach. Now, you have a choice.

Here’s Dragutin again: “Typically, smartocto uses a JavaScript-based tracking code for its tracking purposes.

However, that’s not the only way we can collect data. Smartocto also offers Mobile App tracking using our SDKs or by following instructions for custom implementations of your own.

With that said, clients may also be able to implement server side tracking by following custom implementation instructions which we can provide, and do so with our guidance during the whole process.”

So yes, all this means that it’s possible to implement server side tracking at your organisation, if you’d prefer it done that way. Several of our clients are already changing their approach and we’re implementing server side tracking for them.

Get in touch with us if you have any questions about this - we’re here to help, to listen, and work with you.