How Spotify pursues emotional surveillance for global profit
June 11, 2019 2:16 PM   Subscribe

"Music is emotional, and so our listening often signals something deeply personal and private. Today, this means music streaming platforms ... have troves of data related to our emotional states, moods, and feelings. As it turns out, in a move that should not surprise anyone at this point, Spotify has been selling access to that listening data to multinational corporations." Big Mood Machine, by Liz Pelly for the Baffler.
posted by RedOrGreen (35 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was gonna snark about how crazy unreliable it would be to try to guess people's mood from their music selection. I had no idea that SELECT THE OPTION THAT DESCRIBES HOW YOU FEEL AND I'LL PLAY MUSIC FOR THAT was such a thing.
posted by straight at 2:44 PM on June 11 [10 favorites]


This is gross, and also feels inevitable. I have a glum expectation that what few consumers find out about it will be blasé about it, in the slowly-boiling-frog mode to which we're all becoming accustomed.
posted by salt grass at 2:55 PM on June 11 [4 favorites]


Are there adblockers for Spotify like we have for YouTube?
posted by straight at 2:56 PM on June 11


Soo... are they doing that across the userbase (which I would assume) or "just" to free ad-supported accounts? (The article isn't entirely clear on that imo.)

Both scenarios suck, obviously, especially given that Spotify already does not compensate artists (or at least their fractions of a cent are lower than the fractions of a cent paid out by Apple Music, Tidal or whathaveyou). So now I'm thinking, with Apple being all about users' privacy lately, how does Apple Music compare?

(I have no qualms about changing streaming services. Also, I'm lucky that a lot of the music I like is released on Bandcamp also, so I can throw artists a few bucks this way.)
posted by bigendian at 2:59 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


Something something despacito.
posted by axiom at 3:02 PM on June 11 [11 favorites]


My dislike for streaming music and my habit of primarily listening to music via DRM free mp3s are looking more sensible all the time.

Streaming is for television, which I largely do not care about. Music is important.
posted by Caduceus at 3:06 PM on June 11 [10 favorites]


regardless of how I feel, the right answer to the "what sort of music do I want to listen to" question is "electroclash."
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 3:16 PM on June 11 [5 favorites]


Do they have one called When You Want to Dismantle Capitalism?
posted by straight at 3:18 PM on June 11 [19 favorites]


Would be curious to know what big data has to say about that day I spent listening to Billy Ocean's "Loverboy" on repeat. Probably they'd say something like boy, that snwod sure has great taste in music!. Probably.
posted by snwod at 3:18 PM on June 11 [6 favorites]


This does kind of make me want to open a spotify account, solely to have it play Poop Into A Wormhole 24/7.
posted by salt grass at 3:25 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]


mood: pretty. very pretty. pretty and witty and wise.
posted by 20 year lurk at 3:28 PM on June 11 [9 favorites]


I've always thought of this kind of thing as advertising umbrellas to people who are moving to Seattle or something like that, but the idea of aiming ads about how buying a carpet is so full of sentimental family memories to people who are grieving is some evil deserving several circles of hell deeper.
posted by straight at 3:31 PM on June 11 [9 favorites]


I was going to make some really stupid dark joke about life insurance and funeral arrangements but the reality that the only way my suicidal ideation will be noticed is via an attempt to monetize information about my music listening habits is so perfectly an obvious fit for our times that I don't even.
posted by allium cepa at 3:36 PM on June 11 [10 favorites]


This sounds extreme, but I would support regulations that outright ban all internet gathering of consumer data. I’m aware that this would lead to the collapse of many web businesses, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. I prefer a market where consumers exchange money for a clearly defined and understood product. If that means Spotify costs $30/month, or that no one uses Facebook anymore, we’ll survive. I’m not saying just that a paid version should guarantee privacy - I’m saying consumers should not have the option to choose a free version if that means their dats is gathered and sold. It’s too open to abuse.
posted by freecellwizard at 4:05 PM on June 11 [28 favorites]


haha, the joke is on YOU, Spotify! as a Wholly Rational Man, I do not have moods. Now excuse me while I go listen to Pornography on repeat and throw pencils at the ceiling until somebody asks if I'm ok
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:12 PM on June 11 [22 favorites]


Don't adverts already target emotional states with something like say...tv? Stick an ad for something funny when the comedy's on, stick an ad for bereavement counselling when you're watching a tragic documentary. Ok there's some shenanigans here with advertisers tapping into your individual personal listening history, but the whole emotional targeting thing doesn't seem that new.
posted by doobiedoo at 4:13 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


I think there's a difference between "How dare you try to sell me Kleenex when I'm feeling sad about Bambi dying," and "How dare you try to sell me Kleenex when I'm mourning the death of my mother."
posted by straight at 5:15 PM on June 11 [9 favorites]


There is a difference, but, y'know, fuck the whole thing.

Yes, it is more awful to have my painful internal emotions highlighted, mined for economic opportunity, and shoved back in my face.

But even when it's my less intense emotions, it's just part of the slow degradation of our selves into numb and cheapened bits, fungible crap being shoved callously through the alimentary canal of the almighty economic god, growth.

And it can just fuck right off, out of my personal space, out of my mind. If I wanted algorithms to guess my mood and hassle me to spend money based in those guesses, I would write the bloody things myself.
posted by allium cepa at 6:11 PM on June 11 [5 favorites]


Can confirm. Was listening to Big Black's 'Songs About Fucking' and Spotify suggested the mood category "Fuck Songs" and later I was on PornHub and got all sorts of popups that talked about fucking and how all sorts of people like to do it and how close they are to me.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:12 PM on June 11 [16 favorites]


I've helped build a couple Spotify competitors, so let me start by saying I'd like nothing more for them to be driven into the sea and out of business.

That said, this article is nothing but a bunch of red-string-on-a-board nonsense.

First off, ad targeting has been around as long as there have been ads. If you are selling a product (Coca-Cola) whose tagline was once literally "Have a Coke and Smile", you as company buying the advertising might want that ad to run during the "Feeling Happy" playlist, rather than the "Feeling So Lonesome I Could Cry" playlist.

Also, selling ads this way is what keeps the lights on at Spotify. They are literally out of business without it. I mean, I'd be happy about it, but you Spotify users would not.

Last, to cap it all off, after all the sinister "red string", the author tries to experience the process and both the ads and playlist recommendations are terrible. So, so much for evil big data.
posted by sideshow at 6:20 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]


That's why I prefer Pandora, for which you put in one song that accurately reflects how you feel for one specific moment in time, and then listen to that same station for the rest of eternity, thumbing up and down songs as your mood changes on occasion but mostly forgetting entirely to indicate any which way, leaving a massive conglomerate of inscrutable data. Pandora knows nothing about what I'm feeling, though they probably thought they had an accurate picture of brook horse as a person.

Then one day I made a Queen station because I was feeling gay. I keep thumbing down Journey and the Beatles. Pandora is getting a little frantic. They don't know what I want. Am I here for the pop rock qualities? The mild rhythmic syncopation? The intricate melodic phrasing? The mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation? No, Pandora. I'm here for queer 80s bangers. Get it right.
posted by brook horse at 6:21 PM on June 11 [15 favorites]


Aren’t they losing a billion dollars a quarter, despite being a swollen tick on the corpse of the music industry? I can’t imagine that selling your mood data to advertisers is going to stem the red flood of cash to any great extent. I don’t know where the hell all that startup capital is going, (fancy office furniture? Massive AWS bills?) but since none of it is going to the musicians who make their product, the sooner they collapse, the better.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:36 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


straight: "Do they have one called When You Want to Dismantle Capitalism?"

Yes
posted by capricorn at 7:42 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


I can't even remember why I didn't bother signing on with Spotify. Something in the initial sign-up bugged me, and that was that. It now seems I've kept some of my deepest secrets ... unless you read my blog, or my Facebook posts, or various things I say around this/other sites. But I guess algorithms have got better things to do with their time.
posted by philip-random at 9:13 PM on June 11


Haven't read the article yet but def lol at "Heads Up: We recently updated our privacy policy to clarify how and why we collect personal data. By using our site, you acknowledge that you have read and understand this policy." clickthrough "The Baffler Foundation is not responsible for the information practices of third parties"

bit o the old chicken and the mouse eh?
posted by wyndham at 9:31 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Want to feel old? Look what that naive new music service which would never be able to survive giving away free accounts looks like now!
posted by ominous_paws at 10:32 PM on June 11


But I guess algorithms

that you know about.
posted by amtho at 10:45 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


What I find really interesting is that they were advertising something about 'the emotional taste of millennials' to ME, a MILLENNIAL, on my cat-filled Instagram.

Hopefully whoever processes and consumes their data knows a little more about targeting than whoever placed that instagram ad.
posted by batter_my_heart at 10:49 PM on June 11


I would love to believe that Spotify thinks of me as an eclectic, with-it consumer of only the finest in music, from across a wide range of genres, cultures & eras. But more likely it knows I'm just a grown-up kid from the 1980s with a weird love of country music, Huey Lewis and the occasional Howard Jones track.
posted by chavenet at 1:32 AM on June 12


I am not okay with this. The amount of advertising inserted into services is just becoming more and more and more and the nagging feeling about people knowing more about me than I do worries me about the amount or control they could potentially exercise over me without me knowing.
posted by my-username at 4:51 AM on June 12


This is why I buy my music and have a phone with enough storage for several hours worth of non-repeating play.
posted by Gev at 5:37 AM on June 12


I'm fine with them doing this in my case. I really don't care about it. Based on the comments here I am deeply in the minority, however.
posted by josher71 at 8:52 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


I would be interested to pull data on the mood of people who work for my company, and use that as a metric to report on our employee engagement initiatives
posted by rebent at 10:47 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


This is why I buy my music and have a phone with enough storage for several hours worth of non-repeating play.

Several hours? Amateur. I have in the neighborhood of 250 CDs' worth of music on my phone which I almost never listen to because I mostly listen to podcasts these days.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:24 PM on June 12


Then one day I made a Queen station because I was feeling gay. I keep thumbing down Journey and the Beatles. Pandora is getting a little frantic. They don't know what I want. Am I here for the pop rock qualities? The mild rhythmic syncopation? The intricate melodic phrasing? The mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation? No, Pandora. I'm here for queer 80s bangers. Get it right.

That's funny because I like to run to mellow trance like electronica that let's me mentally "go away" so I listen to Thievery Corporation radio while running.

Unfortunately, as a man of a certain age I also very much like early New Wave and the rest of my Pandora listening and thumbing up reflects that.

So I get one trance electronica song and then 10 eighties songs even on Pandora's Thievery Corporation station.

I cannot outrun my past and this causes feelings.
posted by srboisvert at 6:35 AM on June 13 [5 favorites]


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