Should You be Concerned About Spotify’s Insights into Our Emotional Identity?

As a leading audio streaming platform, Spotify has revolutionized the way we discover and enjoy music. Spotify has become an integral part of how many of us live our day-to-day lives. As such, it shouldn’t surprise you to know that, behind the scenes, the company collects significant user data to tailor its services to our unique wants and needs.

Here, I’ll delve into some details about how Spotify tracks our data. I will also shed light on some lesser-known information about us it may possess. And, finally, I’ll leave you to consider whether we should be more concerned about the amount of information it has on us.

Key Data Points

Spotify’s data collection practices encompass various aspects of our usage and preferences. Here are some key data points the company tracks:

  • Listening history and preferences. Spotify keeps a record of the songs, albums, playlists, and podcasts we play. It uses those to build a comprehensive profile of our musical preferences.
  • Location and device information. Spotify collects data about our location and the devices we use to access its platform, enabling it to deliver location-based recommendations.
  • Personal account information. To create a Spotify account, users provide personal details such as email addresses, usernames, and birthdates.
  • Social media integration. By linking Spotify accounts with social media platforms, Spotify accesses data such as friend connections, shared playlists, and music preferences.
  • Advertisements and third-party partnerships. Spotify uses targeted advertisements to generate revenue. To deliver relevant ads, Spotify collects data about users’ listening habits, location, and demographic information.

Musical Insights

Beyond the aforementioned data points, Spotify possesses even deeper insights into the music we listen to. Audio features at the song level include but are not limited to energy, key, mode, tempo, and valence. This information taken together can paint a holistic picture of the potential mood of the listener based on any given track. Spotify documents define each of these musical features as follows:

  • Energy: Represents the intensity and activity level of a track, ranging from 0.0 to 1.0. It reveals whether a song feels fast, loud, and noisy or more subdued and calming.
  • Key: Indicates the musical key of a track using integers that map to pitches. It helps identify the tonality and emotional characteristics associated with different keys.
  • Mode: Refers to whether a track is in a major or minor key, offering insights into the overall mood and tonal qualities of the music.
  • Tempo: Reflects the estimated beats per minute (BPM) of a track, determining its pace and energy level.
  • Valence: Describes the musical positiveness conveyed by a track, ranging from 0.0 to 1.0. It gauges the emotional sentiment of a song, from happiness and cheerfulness to sadness and anger.

The information above on Audio Features is accessible here

From Data Points to Emotional States

The information Spotify gathers about energy, key, mode, tempo, and valence at the song level can provide substantial insights into our emotional states. For instance, they may infer whether certain musical characteristics are associated with workouts or identify the type of music that resonates with us during a particularly emotional state. In short, Spotify knows a lot about our moods, which brings up valid concerns about the extent of data collection and its potential consequences and implications.

In 2020, Forbes published an article detailing a patent created by Spotify for a voice assistant that could recognize mood through speech. How close are we to achieving emotional recognition technology, and is Spotify way ahead of the game?

Final Thoughts on Privacy and Data

Why do we sometimes embrace data tracking on one platform while expressing concern on another? We revile browsers that track our search history and actively monitor our location, yet we take to social media yearly to celebrate the data Spotify has on us. Although I personally enjoy using Spotify and don’t plan to leave the app, I do worry that Spotify knows a lot more about me than just my top tracks over the last few years, and that makes me uncomfortable. Do you feel the same?

  • Definitely. These sorts of insights concern me substantially because of how they can be used—for example, how far off are we from life insurance companies determining they can correlate emotional data with whether we’re “risky” from a mental health perspective?

    There’s no putting this stuff in the bottle (nor can we realistically prevent new kinds of data-crunching from coming around the corner in the future), but we do very strongly need legal protections against the use of such data. The U.S. has been absolutely terrible at this.

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