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Spotify has ears too. How a streaming service is spying on you and how to stop it

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Whether you’re listening to a workout-friendly playlist or a dinner-time playlist, Spotify will tailor ads to match your current activity or even your mood.

Facebook and Google are some of the largest providers of online advertising. However, Spotify has the ambition to compete with them. Moreover, the company has all the data necessary for this.

Every day, hundreds of millions of people use Spotify on their phones, tablets and desktops, most often staying logged in as they move from one device to another. With each new track they listen to, playlist added, or podcast added, they share more and more personal information with Spotify. It receives over 100 million data points every day .

Each of them provides Spotify with a little more information about our personal lives. “Spotify has an unimaginable amount of data about us ," says Bryan Barletta, creator of Sounds Profitable, an AdTech newsletter and trending podcast. “We have always known that what you listen to, how you listen to it, and the actions you take at that moment are very intimate moments for every user. Information about your activity helps you target ads appropriately when using Spotify."

Spotify understands the value of the data it has and uses it to market its advertising services. “The real-time activity data we receive about you isn’t just about demographics and device IDs – the company also tries to capture users’ moods, tastes, preferences, and habitual behaviors in certain situations ,” Spotify’s ad campaign says. Of the 365 million users of the program per month, 165 buy a subscription in order not to listen to ads. The remaining 200 million simply put up with it. So, it’s time to find out how much Spotify really knows about you and how you can limit the collection of your personal data.

What Spotify Knows About You

All activities you take on the Spotify web player, desktop and mobile apps are tracked by the company. Each press of the button, turning on a song, listening to a playlist, searching, shuffling tracks and pausing are registered in the system. Spotify knows that you played a song called " Truth Hurts " at 11:03 pm and listened to it for one minute. After that, you decided to search for ” break up ” and opened a playlist called ” ANGRY BREAKUP PLAYLIST “, which you listened to for 4 hours and 52 minutes non-stop.

This behavioral data can be easily obtained by the company, which is very revealing. Back in 2015, when Spotify had just 15 million paying subscribers, an executive at the firm said they were collecting " an enormous amount of data about what people listen to and where and under what circumstances it happens." This gives the company an idea of ​​what their users are doing at a given point in time.

The music you listen to reflects how you feel, who you are with and what you do. To capitalize on this, Spotify has invested heavily in data science and has even used people’s habits to advertise more effectively. For example, you might hear the following ad: "Dear user who lives in the Theater District and has listened to the Hamilton soundtrack 5376 times, would you like to go to his concert?".

This kind of ad personalization can be beneficial for companies looking to draw people’s attention to their product. Based on your behavior, Spotify makes certain “inferences” about you that reflect your interests and preferences. “The interesting thing is that data from paid users who don’t listen to podcasts and may never hear ads on Spotify drives this logical mechanism,” says Barletta. "They are the control group."

However, this is not the only data Spotify collects. If you really want to understand what the company knows about you, you need to read their privacy policy. It is worth saying that this document is not at all small. “I think they should use more concise language and more concise language,” says Pat Walshe, data protection and privacy consultant. Previously, he was involved in the analysis of how Spotify manages the available user data. “They can definitely be more concise and put everything in less complicated language.”

In general, the rest of the data that Spotify has about you is information that you provide to the company when you create an account. Thus, the username, email address, phone number, date of birth, gender, actual address and country of residence become available to her. If you choose to subscribe to a paid subscription, you will also provide Spotify with your credit card information. The company’s privacy policy states that it may collect information about cookies, IP address, type of device you are using, browser, operating system, and some other gadgets connected to your Wi-Fi network.

Spotify may also collect "data from sensors that are responsible for the user’s movements and the orientation of the screen of your smartphone", i.e. receive information from the accelerometer or gyroscope. If you use voice control from Spotify, the program will be able to record your commands.

In addition, Spotify receives additional information about you from other companies and services. For example, if you log in with your Facebook account, the program will "import your data" from there, including your user ID. Other "maintenance partners" provide Spotify with information that includes IP addresses displayed on a map so that the company can understand which city and country you live in.

Advertising on Spotify

The data that Spotify collects is not uncommon – other apps and services you use sometimes get even more personal information about you. However, Barletta believes that the advantage of Spotify is that the company feels closer to your personal life than Facebook or other social networks because it uses different algorithms. “You can’t download anything, you can’t talk to anyone,” he says. “You don’t share photos, videos, you don’t send messages. But despite that, Spotify still knows what you think and how you feel today.”

Behavioral data is what helps Spotify make great strides in ad personalization. The app’s privacy policy states that it may use the information it receives to personalize the app, troubleshoot problems, develop new features, market and advertise, and resolve legal issues. Many of the personalization features are related to systems that are responsible for recommending new songs and playlists.

It’s worth noting that Spotify’s advertising business is most tied to its growing podcast empire. The company’s privacy policy says it works with "advertising partners" to share data and determine your "interests or preferences." “We may obtain certain data about you, such as cookies, mobile device ID or email address, and infer your interests and preferences through information from our advertisers and advertising partners, which allow us to serve and measure the performance of more relevant ads. ". The more relevant an ad is, the more likely it is to generate value.

Spotify is proof of the fact that ads can target your mood and what you are doing at a given time. Like dance music? You will be shown relevant ads. However, if you like folk songs, the advertisements will probably be different. Listening to a playlist called " Romance " on Friday night? The ads will be very different from what you’ll hear on a Sunday morning while playing the On the Road playlist .

Spotify sells ads based on what you do – this is called real-time contextual advertising. The company gives an example of 10 different situations in which you can find yourself: vacation, dinner, game, party, travel, cooking, concentration, holidays, study or training. Spotify even offers tips on how to promote millennial ads in these contexts. This all comes in addition to other common categories of advertisements targeted at parents; those who are interested in healthy eating and fitness; is an Android user, etc.

How to stop Spotify from following you

There are several ways to limit Spotify’s use and collection of your data, but there aren’t many. “There are some things that I think they could think of a lot better,” says Walshe. He said there should be more transparency about how Spotify uses user data. Also, more information needs to be given on how people can use the app privately. This may include adding specific privacy checks from Spotify when users are able to view selected settings.

But what can be done now? You should pay attention to the " Private Mode " function – this is listening to music anonymously. By default, your Spotify play history can be seen by people who follow you. One way to listen to tracks privately is to use the "Private Mode" option, but you have to turn it on every time you open the program. To enable this feature on your phone or tablet, go to the app’s settings, open the " Privacy " section, and turn it on. On a PC, this is a little easier: you can click the down arrow in the upper right corner of the program and select the Private Mode option .

While this mode prevents people who follow you from following what you’re listening to, it won’t stop Spotify from logging this information. The company claims that what you listen to privately "may not affect" the music recommendations the program offers you.

The Spotify desktop app has one main privacy-related setting, though it’s hidden behind a series of different menus. Click on your username in the upper right corner of the program, go to settings, scroll down the page to get to advanced options. Here you will be able to block all cookies from being sent in this Spotify desktop app. In addition, in the advanced settings, you can choose whether you want to publish new playlists, share your activity on Spotify and receive instant notifications. Individual playlists can also be hidden by going to them and using the corresponding option.

Most of Spotify’s privacy options are accessed online through your account page. Here you can disable targeted advertising. Go to your account settings under " Privacy " and then change the settings to show personalized ads. "If you opt out of targeted ads, we’ll still show you ads based on your Spotify login information and your real-time usage of the program, but they’ll be less tailored to you," the company explains. It is worth noting that the number of ads will not decrease.

While you’re looking at your privacy settings, you should also disable importing data from Facebook – this will prevent Spotify from using any information about you other than the registration information that was obtained from this social network. You can also download your activity data from this page, including your search logs, music playlists, streaming history, voice commands you’ve sent, and anything Spotify thinks you’re generally interested in.

In the Spotify web settings, you can also view which apps have access to your account and disable the ones you no longer need. For example, you may need to disable an old Alexa speaker you previously used to play music or the AdGenerator tool .

Another aspect to consider if you are listening to Spotify over the Internet is using a privacy browser, which will limit the collection of third-party cookies. Needless to say, a lot of companies share your data with Spotify in this way. On iOS, you can prevent Spotify – and all other apps – from tracking your activity on your smartphone by changing your app tracking transparency settings. Unfortunately, it is not possible to use Spotify without providing your personal information. “In order to completely delete information about yourself, you need to close your account,” the program settings say.

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