Dear Spotify: don’t manipulate our emotions for profit

UPDATE: On November 4, 2021, Access Now sentletter to Spotify’s biggest investors, asking them to hold the company accountable.

UPDATE: On May 4, 2021, 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.

UPDATE: On April 15, 2021, Spotify replied to Access Now’s letter. In its response, Spotify states 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 Access Now is pleased to hear that Spotify has no current plans to deploy the technology, Access Now calls on Spotify to make a public commitment to never use, license, sell, or monetize the technology.

On April 2, 2021, Access Now sent a letter to Spotify calling on the company to abandon the technology underlying its recently granted speech-recognition patent because it presents grave privacy and security concerns. The always-on technology claims to be able to detect, among other things, “emotional state, gender, age, or accent” to recommend music.

Access Now’s major concerns with the technology are:

  • Emotion manipulation: Monitoring emotional state, and making recommendations based on it, puts Spotify in a dangerous position of power in relation to a user.
  • Gender discrimination: It is impossible to infer gender without discriminating against trans and non-binary people.
  • Privacy violations: The device would be “always on,” meaning it would be constantly monitoring, processing voice data, and likely ingesting sensitive information.
  • Data security: Harvesting deeply personal data could make Spotify a target for snooping government authorities and malicious hackers seeking information.

“There is absolutely no valid reason for Spotify to even attempt to discern how we’re feeling, how many people are in a room with us, our gender, age, or any other characteristic the patent claims to detect,” said Isedua Oribhabor, U.S. Policy Analyst at Access Now. “The millions of people who use Spotify deserve respect and privacy, not covert manipulation and monitoring.”