Algorithmic culture: music streaming and privacy

by Sophie Ashton

Article: New Spotify Patent Involves Monitoring Users’ Speech to Recommend Music

“The [Spotify] patent outlines potential uses of technology that involves the extraction of “intonation, stress, rhythm, and the likes of units of speech” from the user’s voice. The tech could also use speech recognition to identify metadata points such as emotional state, gender, age, accent, and even environment—i.e., whether someone is alone, or with other people—based on audio recording.” (Yoo, 2021)

In “On Covid, Privacy, and the Internet: Reflections from a gen z/millennial” Dallas shared their experiences grappling with the “bones” of the internet which have revealed themselves throughout the pandemic. These “bones”, or algorithms, curate a user’s online experience based on their activity. As personal spheres of life (familial, medical, romantic) shift into to online spaces, privacy becomes increasingly important in conversations about technology. While it has yet to be implemented on the platform, Spotify’s patent impels consideration about surveillance online.

About a year ago I wrote an essay for my Critical Studies of Social Media course about Spotify’s music-curation algorithm. Specifically, I considered the impacts of algorithms on artists from cultural groups that exist outside of or are otherwise disadvantaged by binary oppositions including gender minorities, women and people of colour. Algorithms are powerful tools and deeply affect culture. Imagining my music streaming-service listening in on my latest lockdown lamentation is a strange, yet familiar feeling. Indifference towards online privacy is common among my peers, and surveillance feels natural to the experience of technology for many in my generation. I assume my phone is listening to me, and I have become accustomed to the accuracy with which platforms show me content that aligns with my interests. I love Spotify and its ability to show me new music based on what I listen to. It might be nice if the app could offer me a playlist based on what I am saying, doing and feeling. Perhaps it is easier to distance yourself from the more frightening aspects of online privacy because surveillance is so deep within the “bones” of the technology.



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