Spotify urged to drop voice-recognition project

Mucisians say the project amounts to surveillance on the streamer's customers.
The log of streaming service Spotify. (Logo: Spotify/Handout, Graphic: The Desk)

A consortium of musicians and advocacy groups are urging streaming music service Spotify to abandon a project that would harness voice-recognition technology in order to serve up more-relevant tracks and albums to its customers.

The protest comes after Spotify filed a patent in January for a feature that would analyze a customer’s voice when they use a digital assistant within Spotify’s app.

Currently, the voice assistant allows users to give verbal commands in order to play albums, tracks or podcasts that are on the service. Spotify’s patent would take things a step further, analyzing those voice commands in order to serve up more-relevant content based on a user’s presumed age, gender and mood.

Among other things, the technology would try to guess the person’s age and gender, and even their nationality based on a detected accent.

In April, a Spotify executive sent a letter to a human rights advocacy group saying the company “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,” Spotify’s letter said. “Sometimes those innovations end up being implemented in our products, and sometimes they don’t.”

Spotify said it occasionally patents technology that it develops but has no intention of implementing. But that acknowledgement wasn’t good enough for a group of musicians and human rights groups who sent a letter of their own on Tuesday urging the company to fully abandon the idea.

“Monitoring emotional state, and making recommendations based on it, puts the entity that deploys the tech in a dangerous position of power in relation to a user,” the letter said, adding that harvesting personal data like voice transmissions could make Spotify a target for hackers and government institutions alike.

“We call on your company to make a public commitment to never use, license, sell, or monetize the recommendation technology,” the artists wrote.

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