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I want to create a PDF document using Google Docs/Drive that includes links, but without Google tracking clicks on those links.

Downloading a Google Drive document (File > Download as) in any other format (docx, odt, rtf, txt, html) behaves as expected: if I insert a link to http://cnn.com, the link in the downloaded document is to http://cnn.com.

Downloading as PDF mangles the link to add Google tracking: http://cnn.com becomes http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fcnn.com&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=<tracking_token> which displays "Redirecting you to http://cnn.com" and then sends you along. I assume that Google does this to track users' behavior. It's not as if a direct link wouldn't work for some technical reason.

Google does the same thing for links in publicly visible (but not editable) documents on Google Drive like this one.1 While still distasteful, that seems less obnoxious because they're still hosting the document and their presence is obvious to any viewers. If I'm on page on a google.com domain, it's not (as) surprising that they track links from that page. If I'm looking at a PDF from my Aunt Louise2 with a link to a video on vimeo.com of funny cats,3 I don't expect clicking that link to involve Google in any way.4

Try downloading that document in some non-PDF format and note how the links are now direct instead of going through Google. Is it a coincidence that this is only done for the format that's the most difficult to edit after downloading?

So, having gotten all hot and bothered, did I just miss an option somewhere in Docs' preferences that turns off this non-feature?

Is there an easy way to disable this tracking?

Some subpar solutions I'm looking to improve on:

  • Downloading in some other format and converting that to PDF.
    → Rejected for destroying formatting.
  • Manually editing the PDF file to fix the links.
    → Rejected because... yuck. (Though automating this would be a fine solution.)
  • Accepting that Google knows literally everything that I do online and that this is such an esoteric thing that there's no sense worrying about it.
    → :-(

1. Not my document, just the first public one that I found.
2. Not her real name.
3. Aunt Louise has only partially accepted the modern world. She uses email, but only to send PDF copies of letters she's written.
4. Except that in actual practice the video will be on YouTube and Google will know what I'm looking at regardless.

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1 Answer 1

I just discovered that undesirable and unannounced tracking of my links and I found your post by looking for people in the same case. I found out that if you don't use the linking function in google drive (just right click your link and "remove"), the exported pdf features clickable links as well, direct ones, not tracked by Google.

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I think this is a feature of the PDF software, unrelated to Google Docs. If I have a textual link like this in a document, removing the link turns it into regular text. If I have the entire link written out: http://cnn.com, then some PDF viewing software will make that a (direct) clickable link, but others treat it as plain text. So this could be a solution in some cases, but it's hard to control what software someone else uses to open your documents. –  blahdiblah Apr 17 '13 at 21:46

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