UPDATE: Spotify failed to respond to the coalition letter by the May 18 deadline. Access Now will continue to pressure Spotify and other companies that develop voice-recognition technologies to not invest in or deploy digital tools that violate human rights.
Today, Access Now, Fight for the Future, Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, and a coalition of over 180 musicians and human rights organizations from around the world sent a letter to Spotify calling on the company to make a public commitment to never use, license, sell, or monetize its new speech-recognition patent technology.
Spotify claims that the technology can detect, among other things, “emotional state, gender, age, or accent” to recommend music. This technology is dangerous, a violation of privacy and other human rights, and should not be implemented by Spotify or any other company.
On April 2, 2021, Access Now sent a letter to Spotify calling on the company to abandon the technology in the patent. On April 15, 2021, Spotify replied to Access Now’s letter, stating that the company “has never implemented the technology described in the patent in any of our products and we have no plans to do so.”
While the coalition is pleased to hear that Spotify has no current plans to deploy the technology, it begs the question: why was Spotify ever exploring its use? Even if Spotify doesn’t use the technology, the company could profit from the surveillance tool if another entity deploys it. Any use of this technology is unacceptable.
“Spotify’s claim that they have no plans to deploy its dangerously invasive tech is largely smoke and mirrors,” said Jennifer Brody (she/her), U.S. Advocacy Manager at Access Now. “If the company actually wants to demonstrate its commitment to protecting human rights, Spotify must publicly declare to never use, license, sell, or monetize its harmful spyware.”
“Claiming to be able to infer someone’s taste in music based on their accent or detect their gender based on the sound of their voice is racist, transphobic, and just plain creepy,” said Evan Greer (she/they), a musician who signed the letter and the director of Fight for the Future. “It’s not enough for Spotify to say they’re not planning on using this patent right now, they need to commit to killing this plan entirely. They should be focused on paying artists fairly and transparently instead of developing dystopian surveillance tech.”
Tom Morello (he/him), guitarist of Rage Against the Machine signed the letter and said, “You can’t rock out when you’re under constant corporate surveillance. Spotify needs to drop this right now and do right by musicians, music fans, and all music workers.”
Sadie Dupuis (she/her) of Speedy Ortiz and Sad13, and a member of the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, said, “Instead of wasting money developing creepy surveillance software, Spotify should be focused on paying artists a penny per stream and being more transparent about the data they’re already collecting on all of us.”
“An assurance that Spotify currently isn’t planning to use this invasive and frightening technology isn’t enough. In the interest of serving ads and making the platform more addictive, they filed a patent to specifically surveil and discriminate by gender, age, accents, and more. Spotify must completely reject the premise of this technology and commit to never using, licensing, selling, or monetizing their speech recognition patent,” said Lia Holland (she/they), Campaigns and Communications Director at Fight for the Future. “Our global coalition of artists, performers, and organizations are disgusted and disturbed by surveillance capitalism and the abusive business models it perpetuates. Spotify must close the door on speech recognition and throw away the key.”
Access Now and Fight for the Future organized the letter, signed by human rights groups including Amnesty International, Color of Change, Mijente, Derechos Digitales, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Public Citizen, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Musicians signing include Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), Talib Kweli, Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!), of Montreal, Sadie Dupuis (Speedy Ortiz, Sad13), DIIV, Eve 6, Ted Leo, Anti-Flag, Atmosphere, Downtown Boys, Anjimile, illuminati hotties, Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn, The Blow, AJJ, Kimya Dawson, and more.