Earlier this year, Spotify elicited sheer panic when it was granted a patent for analyzing users’ voices to decipher their emotional state and then make music recommendations to match. Under the patent’s description, Spotify would also be able to use your speech to identify gender, age, accents, and even if you’re with someone or alone.
It’s just a patent and that technology may never find its way into the platform. But in an era of surveillance capitalism and ever-heightening privacy and data concerns, artificial intelligence that tries to feed you music based on what it thinks you’re feeling seems like yet another dystopian future that’s almost here. After all, emotion-recognition technology is already being used in marketing, security, and hiring.
But musician and activist Evan Greer is doing what she can to make sure Spotify’s patents never become a reality.
In conjunction with the release of her single “Surveillance Capitalism” off her new album, Spotify Is Surveillance, Greer is also calling for Spotify to ditch any plans of surveilling its users. Launched in partnership with nonprofit advocacy group Fight for the Future, where she is the deputy director, StopSpotifySurveillance.org lays out the stakes of the issue at hand and provides a petition to sign.
“The fact that Spotify filed a patent for this type of emotional surveillance and manipulation is beyond chilling,” Greer said in a statement. “It’s not enough for them to say that they have no plans to use this technology right now, they should publicly commit to never conducting this type of surveillance on music listeners.”
To drive that point home, Greer explains the song “Surveillance Capitalism” is meant to underscore how the internet still has “the potential to profoundly transform our society for the better, abolishing false scarcity, and enabling universal access to human knowledge and creativity, while ensuring marginalized and independent artists and creators are fairly compensated for our labor.
“But if we allow a small handful of companies to dominate the web and the music industry with a parasitic business model based on surveillance and exploitation,” she adds, “we’re headed for the opposite: a dystopian future where algorithms decide what we see and hear based on profit, rather than artistry.”
Greer isn’t the only one pushing back against Spotify, which hasn’t faced the same kind of attention as other large tech firms regarding privacy and surveillance. The digital civil rights group Access Now has also demanded that Spotify withdraw any plans to implement its patent. “This technology is dangerous, a violation of privacy and other human rights, and should be abandoned,” the nonprofit wrote in a letter to Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, which was reported by Axios.
Read more about StopSpotifySurveillance.org here and check out Greer’s album here. The proceeds from the song will be donated to the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) to support their #JusticeAtSpotify campaign.