Over 180 Musicians Protest Spotify’s Speech Monitoring Patent in Open Letter

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Earlier this year, Spotify had a patent approved for technology that could monitor and record users’ speech and background noise to help curate and recommend music. Today, over 180 musicians—a coalition that includes Access Now, Fight for the Future, Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, and human rights organizations—signed an open letter calling on the company to make a public commitment never to utilize, license, sell, or monetize this patent. Signees include Evan Greer (whose new album is called Spotify Is Surveillance), Tom Morello, Laura Jane Grace, Ted Leo, Sadie Dupuis, Downtown Boys, DIIV, and Talib Kweli. You can read it in full here.

“Spotify claims that the technology can detect, among other things, ‘emotional state, gender, age, or accent’ to recommend music,” the letter reads. “This recommendation technology is dangerous, a violation of privacy and other human rights, and should not be implemented by Spotify or any other company.”

“You can’t rock out when you’re under constant corporate surveillance,” Morello wrote. “Spotify needs to drop this right now and do right by musicians, music fans, and all music workers.”

Dupuis added, “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.”

The letter outlines the five major concerns that the coalition has regarding the technology: “emotional manipulation,” discrimination, privacy violations, data security, and the exacerbation of inequality in the music industry. The letter explicitly requests that Spotify makes a “public commitment to never use, license, sell, or monetize the recommendation technology,” and asks the company to issue a response to the letter by Tuesday, May 18.

In January, after the patent was granted, a Spotify spokesperson said: “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.”

When reached by Pitchfork, a Spotify spokesperson shared a letter that Horacio Guttierez (the streaming platform’s Head of Global Affairs and Chief Legal Officer) sent to Access Now in April. In the letter, Gutierrez wrote regarding “the speech-recognition patent”:

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.

Read “Could Spotify’s New Discovery Mode Be Considered Payola?” over on the Pitch.



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