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Spotify Wrapped shows how our personal data gets sliced and diced

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I shuddered as I played the message for more information. A brightly colored highlight rolled out, showing me what I (mostly) suspected: my best songs included Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now,” Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat (Day-O)” ( one of my daycare favorites) and “Ship to Wreck” by Florence and the Machine (Florence and the Machine was also the best artist I listened to – Spotify Wrapped informed me that I spent 699 minutes listening to the band). In total, this year I listened to 48 different genres on Spotify for 6,664 minutes; an amount of time that is more than 51% of other listeners in the United States, Spotify usefully pointed out.

Oh, and my “audio aura” during the year was very green, as my best musical moods, according to Spotify, were “friendly” and “creepy.”

Spotify Wrapped is, of course, a marketing campaign, and it’s impressively effective. The music company has introduced it annually in early December in recent years, in the hope that its 381 million users (172 million of whom are paid subscribers) will share these specific details of their personal listening habits with friends. Spotify knows a lot about its users because it keeps a close eye on them; similar to Netflix, uses artificial intelligence to recommend music based on factors such as what you’ve heard in the past.
And people, myself included, quickly shared Spotify Wrapped on social media. me right away published a pair of screenshots on Twitter and I’ve seen many friends i mates he had done the same.

“I’m a walking stereotype,” tweeted my co-worker Donie O’Sullivan, whose artist was U2 in 2021 (Donie, like U2, comes from Ireland).

Even the U.S. Department of Transportation was involved in the action, piulant a list of the top five songs that relied heavily on transportation issues (it included Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License” and St. Panther’s “Infrastructure”).
As of Thursday morning, a day after the launch of Spotify Wrapped in 2021, a Twitter search showed that the “SpotifyWrapped” tag had been tweeted 14,000 times in just one hour. However, like some astute Twitter users as well pointed out, this marketing campaign is an important example of how a company can conduct in-depth monitoring of our personal behavior over a long period of time and package it as a fun feature that we want to share with others.
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“That’s the trick: to make things viral, engaging, and fun in a way that hides the harms of extractive practices,” said Chris Gilliard, a visiting researcher at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics, and Public Policy. Kennedy School. .

Gilliard, who doesn’t use Spotify and admits it’s “like a surveillance killjoy,” compares Spotify Wrapped to other tech companies’ efforts to package surveillance as beautiful or fun, such as Astro, the Amazon dog-like home security robot; i Facebook’s Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses. He also pointed out that this type of presentation of your listening activity could trigger some people in different ways. Imagine, for example, if your Spotify Wrapped playlist included songs loved by a recently deceased friend.

We know, for the most part, that our applications and devices constantly record what we do and use that data to make decisions. But rarely do they present such a brilliant dossier of our activity, assembled as a holiday gift. And while it may be fun, it can also make us pause and think about the magnitude and possible drawbacks of this data collection. While Spotify Wrapped feels festive, collecting personal data may not seem as fun and harmless to all tech companies. If, for example, a service like Google’s Gmail sent you an email about your “year 2021 in messages”, telling you how often you started emails with “hey” or ended them with “better” or the number of times you’ve searched for old emails sent to or from boyfriends, this could be a little more creepy.

But the data that Spotify is collecting on your music listening habits is quite personal, because what we hear says a lot about our lives and our moods, or at least the moods of our music (Spotify blatantly classifies such things as “audio aura”). If your Spotify Wrapped shows that you’ve heard a lot of lullabies or songs from The Wiggles, for example, it’s decent that you have at least one young child, and if you post this list on social media, you may want to share this information unintentionally. the world. Too many sad songs in the top five for 2021 could lead to a “are you okay?” message or two from friends who see your list on social media.

“It’s not just what you might be revealing, but what it could be supposed to be, whether it’s true or not,” Gilliard said. This can be anything, whether you have anxiety or not, are pregnant or have recently received a medical diagnosis, all sorts of things that can be guessed from songs or podcasts.

While my Spotify Wrapped felt benign (and predictable) enough to share, there was a surprise. Rockwell’s classic “Somebody’s Watching Me,” which my toddler has forced me to play countless times over the past few months, didn’t make the list. Maybe next year.

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