from the world's big
How Spotify manipulates your emotions and sells your data
A new book on the music distribution service claims it is.
- Spotify Teardown claims that the streaming service is sending (and receiving) much more than music.
- The authors contend that the service is engaged in emotional manipulation given their playlist emphasis.
- Music is only the surface layer of a much larger data collection and advertising infrastructure.
It started with geotracking. As smartphone owners realized we were being tracked, privacy concerns flooded our consciousness. Some acquiesced: Who cares if I'm offered a coupon while walking by a store I like? Most outrage has been tamped down by the addictive nature of the device. We seem to have accepted tracking as part of the bargain. Plus those disclaimers have too many words.
But the layers keep unraveling. Laptop cameras snapping unsuspecting candids. Alexa listening in on conversations. Your light bulbs sending sleep data to Google and Amazon. Every device and app appears to have ulterior motives. There's a reason app developer is the "fastest growing six-figure job."
In an attempt to monetize every second of every day, everywhere, imagine this scene: You walk into a store, which has a deal with Amazon to track what items you regularly purchase. As you approach that department, the store checks in with Spotify to discover your most played songs. Since your spending habits are higher than other customers, the store's soundtrack immediately updates to reflect your favorites. This little dopamine boost ensures an open wallet.
To my awareness this is not reality—yet. But it's coming. While privacy concerns are aimed at Facebook, Google, Apple, and other big players, we seem to have overlooked one of the biggest private data brokers around. Spotify passes as a music distribution service, yet there's much more being sent through your speakers.
That's the case made in Spotify Teardown: Inside the Black Box of Streaming Music, a new book by a team of five academics that intensively studied the service for a number of years. This incredible investigation will open your eyes to an entire universe of data sharing and online marketing occurring at octaves too low for human consciousness to detect. As they write:
Rather than being an autonomous actor with the power to shape the future of the music business, Spotify exists at the intersection of industries such as music, advertising, technology, and finance.
Daniel Ek, chief executive officer of Spotify, speaks about a partnership between Samsung and Spotify during a product launch event at the Barclays Center, August 9, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images
The historical analysis alone reveals a suspect future. Spotify's founders, Daneil Ek and Martin Lorentzon, never worked in the music industry before founding the company in 2006. Perhaps unsurprisingly they both came from advertising technology. Incredibly, the service launched with no song licenses; like their Swedish counterpart, The Pirate Bay, Spotify was effectively an illegal file-sharing service for a full year-and-a-half.
This recent history seems generations ago. Major complaints today include notoriously low payments, major label ownership, and pro rata revenue share, meaning that revenue is divvied up by how many tracks are currently being streamed at every moment, which favors more famous artists on larger labels. As I listen to American-Kenyan band Extra Golden while writing this article, Ariana Grande is getting paid more money per stream simply because more people are listening to her right now.
How is a song "streamed" in the first place? Actually, it's not. Rather than "streaming," the authors write, Spotify is "aggregating" by uniting "distinct data particles into a coherent whole." Though the service is protective of its processes, information provided by the company revealed that only 10 percent of music playback originates in its own servers; 35 percent from P2P networks; and a whopping 55 percent come from local caches.
This squares with a 2015 survey claiming that a majority of Spotify listeners stop listening to new music after age 33. Decades of internet research have revealed that we're more predictable than we'd like to believe; musical choice is no different. Due to the construction of our brain, music we listen to as a teenager tends to remain our favorite for the rest of our lives. Such data help advertisers pinpoint emotional responses to specific stimuli; an album becomes a gateway to sales across industries.
This Is Your Brain on Music
Such crass commercialization of a sacred act. Music is an integral part of our identity. The communication system we call language likely began as music. The ritual of music is ceremonial in intent, designed to invoke and inspire the emotions of a community. Spotify initially marketed shared experiences as a motivating factor for using their service, but over the years the Swedish company has gone the way of America with its hyper-focus on the individual.
The AI-driven Discover Weekly, Release Radar, and Daily Mixes are all based on personal listening habits, which self-reinforce the more you remain within your lane. Curated playlists, the authors note, also tend to skew happy—the more you enjoy upbeat music, the more likely you'll stay listening, sad songs be damned.
Music recommendations, then, can be understood as products for mood enhancement and the management of psychological capital.
Which brings us back to the beginning: Is Spotify a music streaming service or a data hoarder? There was outrage when Facebook manipulated the moods of its users, yet Spotify regularly attempts the same. Their focus on happiness is emotional manipulation. When you discover what a stream—an aggregation—really entails, the information proves even more troublesome.
The "intimate relation" personalized playlists evoke, the authors note, "is monetized at the very moment when users click play." Music is only the layer you hear above "a cacophony of other data." Using browser plugin Ghostery and network data capture tool Fiddler, the authors worked with a programmer to discover no less than 22 mostly advertising-related companies in that cacophony, tracking listening habits and providing real-time analytics. This data is packaged and resold.
As the rush to capture and capitalize data continues, every application seems to be in the race. The one safe haven left—the ritual of music, the shared experience between artist and fan—is now monetized at every turn. A pittance goes to the creators, while the price the fans pay is steeper than any of us imagined.
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.