Although Spotify claims they “have no plans” to implement the speech recognition technology that they patented recently, news of the patent has left many people concerned. Artists including Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz, Talib Kweli, Tom Morello and over 180 others signed a letter to Spotify requesting that they “make a public commitment to never use, license, sell, or monetize the recommendation technology.” The full letter can be found here.
Many organizations also signed the petition, including Amnesty International, Center for Digital Democracy, Center for Human Rights and Privacy, Fight for the Future and the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, among other organizations representing marginalized groups and causes. The signees pointed out reasons why they found the claim that the technology could identify “emotional state, gender, age or accent” to be alarming. The patent filing form also stated that “It should be understood that the above example metadata categories of emotions, gender, age and accent are merely examples, and numerous other characterizations and classifications can be used.”
The reasons that the letter gave were organized into five categories: emotional manipulation, discrimination, privacy violations, data security and exacerbated inequality in the music industry. They state that the technology will put Spotify “in a dangerous position of power in relation to a user,” adding that it would be “discriminating against trans and non-binary people,” and allege that it would be racially stereotyping people by attempting to infer taste from someone’s accent. In addition, they claim the device’s recording capabilities and ability to collect “environmental metadata” would be a violation of privacy for anyone in the room who was not aware that Spotify was listening to them. They also questioned the security of the data that Spotify would receive and stated that “Music should be made for human connection, not to please a profit-maximizing algorithm.”
In its concluding request, the letter addresses Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, “While we are pleased to hear that Spotify has no current plans to deploy the technology, it begs the question: why are you exploring its use? We call on your company to make a public commitment to never use, license, sell, or monetize the recommendation technology. Even if Spotify doesn’t use it, your company could profit from the surveillance tool if another entity deploys it. Any use of this technology is unacceptable. We ask you to publicly respond to our request by May 18, 2021.”
Morello made a personal statement on the affair, “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.”
“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,” Dupuis added. Other artists to have signed the letter include Anti-Flag, DIIV, Guerilla Toss, The Hotelier, illuminati hotties, Kimya Dawson, Kindness, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, of Montreal, Talib Kweli and Yoni Wolf of WHY?
In response to the news of the patent in January, a spokesperson for the streaming platform stated, “Spotify has filed patent applications for hundreds of inventions, and we regularly file new applications. Some of these patents become part of future products, while others don’t. Our ambition is to create the best audio experience out there, but we don’t have any news to share at this time.”
They confirmed this sentiment in a new statement to Pitchfork from Spotify’s Head of Global Affairs and Chief Legal Officer Horacio Guttierez, “Spotify has never implemented the technology described in the patent in any of our products and we have no plans to do so. Our research and development teams are constantly envisioning and developing new technologies as part of our ongoing innovation cycle. Sometimes those innovations end up being implemented in our products and sometimes they don’t. The decision to patent an invention does not always reflect the company’s intent to implement the invention in a product, but is instead influenced by a number of other considerations, including our responsibilities to our users and to society at large.”
Photo credit: Mauricio Alvarado