Commentary

Spotify Stirs Consumer-Privacy Debate

Despite the endless protestations of privacy advocates, consumers seem increasingly willing to trade their anonymity for better mobile services.

Regarding the degree to which apps eavesdrop on our personal lives, experts say most consumers exist in a state of blissful ignorance.

In particular, “Facebook is doing what it wants to do … and the name of the game is personalization,” Joseph Turow, a Robert Lewis Shayon Professor at UPenn’s Annenberg School of Communication, told attendees at the OMMA RTB conference in June.

Even among younger users, Turow insisted that the vast majority of consumers remain unaware of “what’s happening” -- i.e., the degree to which tech companies and marketers track -- and profit from -- their behavioral, buying history, and personal information.

This week, however, Spotify unleashed a new privacy policy that could test the limits of consumers' semi-conscious obliviousness.

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“With your permission, we may collect information stored on your mobile device, such as contacts, photos, or media files,” according to the new terms.

What’s more, “Depending on the type of device that you use to interact with the Service and your settings, we may also collect information about your location based on, for example, your phone’s GPS location or other forms of locating mobile devices (e.g., Bluetooth).”

As if that wasn’t creepy enough, Spotify states: “We may also collect sensor data (e.g., data about the speed of your movements, such as whether you are running, walking, or in transit).”

As with Facebook, Spotify’s assault on user privacy is part of a broader push toward more personalized service. This could obviously benefit users if, based on Spotify’s data analysis, they end up hearing a playlist more attuned to their tastes. 

Some Spotify users may consider this a fair trade, while others may not. Yet the new terms don’t appear to care. “If you don’t agree with the terms of this Privacy Policy, then please don’t use the Service,” it states.

Doing damage control on Friday, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek tried to walk back the rigidity of the new terms.  

“In our new privacy policy, we indicated that we may ask your permission to access new types of information, including photos, mobile device location, voice controls, and your contacts,” Ek writes in a blog post.            

“Let me be crystal clear here: If you don’t want to share this kind of information, you don’t have to,” he clarifies. “We will ask for your express permission before accessing any of this data -- and we will only use it for specific purposes that will allow you to customize your Spotify experience.”

Lest there be any doubt, experts assure that continuing to push the limits of personal privacy is key to the future of Facebook, Spotify, and other tech giants. As Turow said in June: “Most of what happens in the [tech] world today is done out of competitiveness and necessity.”

Is there a point at which consumers will draw the line? Even by current industry standards, Spotify seems determined to find out.

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