This was originally written as a guest post for GitLab in November of 2015, but they decided not to publish it.
Since Google Analytics was not necessary for the site to function, users could simply block the script and continue to use GitLab.com ethically. However, encouraging users to visit a project on GitLab.com while knowing that it loads Google Analytics is a problem both for users’ freedoms, and for their privacy.
GitLab is more than service and front-end to host Git repositories; it has a number of other useful features as well. Using those features, however, would mean that GitLab.com is no longer just a mirror for a project—it would be endorsed by the project’s author, requiring that users visit the project on GitLab.com in order to collaborate. For example, if an author were to use the GitLab issue tracker on GitLab.com, then she would be actively inviting users to the website by telling them to report issues and feature requests there.
GitLab has chosen to actively work with the Free Software movement—enough so that they are now considered an acceptable host for GNU projects according to GNU’s ethical repository criteria. And they have chosen to do so again—headed by Sytse Sijbrandij (GitLab Inc. CEO), Google Analytics has been removed from the GitLab.com instance and replaced with Piwik.
More Than Just Freedom
This change is more than a commitment to users’ freedoms—it’s also a commitment to users’ privacy that cannot be understated. By downloading and running Google Analytics, users are being infected with some of the most sophisticated examples of modern spyware: vast amounts of personal and behavioral data are sent to Google for them to use and share as they wish. Google Analytics also tracks users across many different websites, allowing them to discover your interests and behaviors in ways that users themselves may not even know.
Users should not have to try to anonymize themselves in order to maintain their privacy—privacy should be a default, and a respected one at that. GitLab has taken a strong step in the right direction; I hope that others will take notice and do the same.