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Spotify says it has no plans to use new music recommendations patent following privacy concerns

By | Published on Monday 19 April 2021


Spotify has said that it has no plans to actually use a patent it recently secured in the US that covers a speech-recognition technology which would enable the streaming service to recommend music based on a user’s environment and emotions.

The technology covered by that new patent – the paperwork for which Spotify first filed in 2018 – was criticised earlier this month by the US-based group Access Now, which says that it seeks to “defend and extend the digital rights of users at risk around the world”.

Confirming that it had written to the streaming firm about its new patent, Access Now said that the proposed new technology “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”.

It added that “monitoring emotional state, and making recommendations based on it, puts Spotify in a dangerous position of power in relation to a user”, that “it is impossible to infer gender without discriminating against trans and non-binary people”, and that the ‘always on’ nature of the proposed tech would mean that it would “likely be ingesting sensitive information”.

“Harvesting deeply personal data could make Spotify a target for snooping government authorities and malicious hackers seeking information”, it also stated.

The digital rights group’s Isedua Oribhabor then added: “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. The millions of people who use Spotify deserve respect and privacy, not covert manipulation and monitoring”.

In a response sent last week and published by Access Now on its website, Spotify’s Chief Legal Officer Horacio Gutierrez says: “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”, he adds, “but is instead influenced by a number of other considerations, including our responsibilities to our users and to society at large. I can assure you that any products Spotify develops both now and in the future will reflect our commitment to conducting business in a socially responsible manner and comply with applicable law”.

Noting his firm’s recent dabblings in voice-control, including that Car Thing device, Gutierrez adds that, in launching those products “we’ve highlighted the dedicated efforts we’ve made to ensure these versatile user experiences were made with privacy top-of-mind … These offerings are completely optional and users have the ability to opt-in or out of the voice experience at any time”.

Commenting on Spotify’s letter, Access Now states that while it 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 monetise the technology”.