Image Credit: Spotify

Calls for Spotify to once and for all abandon its voice assistant analysis patent aren’t going away anytime soon.

Campaigners have sent another open letter to Spotify regarding its controversial voice-monitoring technology patent. First patented in 2018 and filed in January this year, Spotify’s speech recognition technology would recommend songs based on the speaker’s voice, making suggestions based on emotion as well as age or gender.

Non-profit Access Now first contacted Spotify CEO Daniel Ek highlighting their concerns, to which Spotify formally responded stating it “never implemented the technology described in the patent in any of our products and we have no plans to do so.” Soon afterwards 180 musicians signed a further letter opposing the patent, calling it a “terrifying” prospect.

The latest letter from Access Now is addressed to seven Spotify investors, asking they support campaigners’ demand that the streaming giant abandon any plans to make the technology a reality, and hold Spotify accountable.

What’s so bad about the patent? Campaigners say that the technology amounts to emotional manipulation – putting songs in front of someone that will encourage them to feel a certain way.

They also say it will discriminate against non-binary and trans people, and risk racial stereotyping by assuming someone’s music taste based on accent alone. Privacy concerns are listed, as the device would presumably be continually recording, and other data security issues.

The hard-hitting letter equates the technology to human rights abuses, as campaigners stated that after the recent Facebook whistleblower revelations they felt they couldn’t trust a tech company on “good will” alone.

Spotify has at no point said that it has any concrete plans to launch such technology – but it also hasn’t categorically said that it won’t in the future. Campaigners want a solid guarantee from Spotify that it will never “never use, license, sell, or monetize this pernicious technology.”

The letter said: “Spotify did not make a clear commitment to never use, license, sell, or monetize the technology. Even if Spotify does not use the technology, they could profit from the surveillance tool if another entity deploys it. Any use
of this technology is unacceptable.”

At time of writing the investors have yet to respond, and neither has a Spotify representative. Whatever the response, an open discussion around the moral complexities of data privacy is always valuable for all parties, even in the case of a hypothetical new technology.