Catholics, privacy, and Big Tech

Sid O'Neill on Mar 18, 2021

Most advances in web technologies are driven by commerce. There isn't intrinsically anything wrong with this – it's a very efficient process to develop ways of communicating with users and facilitating their needs.

The Church follows along at a distance. It used to be the case that the remove was fairly large – the Church is a tradition-bound, high-inertia organization – but in recent years across the board we've seen many examples of Catholics adopting secular methods to great success. Marketing, after all, is similar enough to evangelization that it's easy to adapt the framework.

Friday Fish Fry

This isn't a problem. Reinventing the wheel isn't good stewardship. Marketing is based in an understanding of human nature, and so is effective evangelization.

Problems arise, however, when these secular techniques are adopted thoughtlessly, without due consideration of their appropriateness. Widespread adoption is a great indicator of the efficacy of a tool or technique, but it's a terrible indicator of how ethical it is to employ it.

The Google Trade-off

The premiere example of this is the ubiquity of Google Analytics. If you run a Catholic website in 2021, there's a fantastic chance that you're using Google Analytics to track your visitors. It's free (who doesn't love free?) and it's what everyone else is doing.

But here's the problem: it's not really free. In 2019 Google made $67 per user – in part because of the data you gave them via your analytics tracking code. You can't do anything about, or the myriad other giant data-harvesting factories that Google runs (do you have a Gmail account?) But now you're going to help them make money off your site visitors as well? Your parishioners and donors?

How much money did you get per site-user in 2019? Was it as much as Google?

And for what? Google Analytics is the industry leading analytics solution for a reason – it has so many features and such complexity that you'd need years of study to master it all. But you're almost certainly using it for two things: checking how many visitors you got, and checking where they came from.

Is that worth trading your users (and your own) privacy? Is it worth it when you can get the exact same features and benefits without needing to involve the behemoth?

The Google Analytics iceberg


For us, it isn't worth it. That's why we provide free analytics from Fathom to every SimpleParish customer that needs to track that information. Fathom is one of a number of companies that are providing an alternative to Big Tech that prioritizes user privacy – not rapacious data-farming. An added bonus, if you needed one, is that it's way more fun and easy to use than Google Analytics. You can still use GA if you want to, but we're betting you won't!

At this point, it's pretty much impossible for anyone to avoid being a profit vector for Big Tech. But wherever possible, we're finding alternatives like Fathom. Like making our free Catholic Icon Font instead of using Google's Material Icons.

Digital privacy isn't a concern for everyone – and everyone has to make up their own mind about whether the trade-offs of using Big Tech are worth it. But if one of our priorities is good stewardship, we can only make that trade if we feel that it's absolutely necessary. The alternatives are out there.

Interested in an alternative?

We're building parish websites with a priority on stewardship and privacy. Get started with a SimpleParish site today for free.

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