Spotify's chief executive apologises after user backlash over new privacy policy

Spotify Playlist

The chief executive of music service Spotify has apologised to users after anger over sweeping changes to its privacy policy that give the company much greater access to personal data on users’ phones.

As well as collecting personal information, such as email addresses and birthdays, Spotify will be able to sift though users’ contacts, collect their photos and in some cases, even check their location and determine how quickly they are moving. Depending on the device being used, Spotify said it may be able to collect sensor data, such as “data about the speed of your movements, such as whether you are running, walking, or in transit”.

Some information would also be shared with advertisers, although Spotify did not spell out exactly what data it would pass on.

Some users – including Markus “Notch” Persson, the creator of hit game Minecraft – took to Twitter to announce they were cancelling their accounts.

In an attempt to stem the rising anger, Daniel Ek, the chief executive of Spotify, apologised to users over “confusion” caused by the changes in a blogpost on the company’s website.

“We should have done a better job in communicating what these policies mean and how any information you choose to share will – and will not – be used,” he said.

The new terms relate to features that the company plans to introduce, such as Spotify Running, which matches the beats-per-minute of a track to the pace of a user’s run, or Discover Weekly, which curates a weekly playlist based on listeners’ tastes.

Before Ek’s apology, the company said: “Spotify is constantly innovating and evolving its service to deliver the best possible experience for our users. This means delivering the perfect recommendations for every moment, and helping you to enjoy, discover and share more music than ever before. The data accessed simply helps us to tailor improved experiences to our users, and build new and personalised products for the future.

“Throughout, the privacy and security of our customers’ data is – and will remain – Spotify’s highest priority.”

The news of the updated terms led to a high-profile clash between two of Sweden’s most influential technology stars. Persson, told his 2.4m followers he was quitting the music-streaming service, after calling in Spotify to “please consider not being evil”.

In a heated exchange on Twitter, Ek countered that his fears were overblown, adding that users would be asked before Spotify looked at their cameras.

Spotify has 75m active users, according to its own data, with 20m paying for its premium subscription service to avoid adverts. Last week UK listeners propelled Scottish DJ Calvin Harris to the coveted most-streamed spot, with ‘how deep is your love’.

Spotify’s Discover Weekly service was introduced in late July as an attempt to solve the company’s long-standing problems with music discovery. The feature offers up a two-hour playlist based on users’ listening habits, as well as those of similar fans, and is overseen by Matthew Ogle, formerly of music social network This Is My Jam.

“We wanted to make something that felt like your best friend making you a mixtape, labelled ‘music you should check out’, every single week,” Ogle told the Guardian last month. In the month since the feature was launched, it has become a hit with users, with comments on social media calling it “the most fire DJ of 2015” and “scary good”.

Simon Rockman, a journalist at tech website The Register, said Spotify’s “aggressive” collection of data was likely to a driven by an effort to improve profits, while rivals, such as Apple, developed music-streaming services.

He predicted that the vast majority of Spotify users “will just tick the box and not care”.

“Generally with security, there are people who understand, people who understand and don’t care, and then a subset in between of people who understand and do care and that subset is quite small.”

But Louise Bennett, chair of security at the Chartered Institute for IT, challenged the view that young people no longer care about privacy.

She predicted growing consumer demand for transparent companies with an “ethical” policy on data. “It will come back to bite those companies eventually. Increasing numbers of people will say ‘I don’t want this to happen’ and there will be value put on those companies that do look after your privacy and don’t keep on changing their terms and conditions.”

She called on companies to make terms and conditions much simpler, occupying a phone screen, rather than 45 pages of dense text.

Companies should be encouraged to adopt a traffic light system, she said, where a red symbol warned people their data was being shared with third parties, amber indicated customer data was used by the service provider, and green meant no data harvesting.

If such an industry standard came into practice, “a large number of people would go for green or amber,” she predicted.

Powered by article was written by Alex Hern and Jennifer Rankin, for The Guardian on Friday 21st August 2015 13.03 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010