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Spotify's 'Sorry' Fails to Cut Through Confusion

By Richard Adhikari TechNewsWorld ECT News Network
Aug 22, 2015 5:00 AM PT
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Spotify CEO Daniel Ek on Friday issued a public apology for poor communications regarding the company's new privacy policy.

The new policy, which took effect Wednesday, immediately triggered alarm. Several tech publications railed against the terms, and Minecraft creator Markus Persson engaged Spotify CEO Daniel Ek in a Twitter debate that ended with Persson and others quitting the music service.

"Let me be crystal clear here: If you don't want to share this kind of information, you don't have to," Ek wrote in his apology.

"We will ask for your express permission before accessing any of this data -- and we will only use it for specific purposes that will allow you to customize your Spotify experience," he added.

In light of Ek's apology and explanation, the debate now appears focused on whether the brouhaha was justified, or if Spotify's critics profoundly overreacted.

Spotify's Intentions

Spotify's new policy increases information collected to include new technical data such as additional cookies, device information and network information.

With permission, Spotify may collect information stored on mobile devices, such as a user's contacts and photos.

Spotify may collect location information and sensor data from mobile devices.

A lack of clarity over what Spotify might ask permission to do and what it might do without asking permission no doubt led to the outrage.

It's Not OK if We're Paying

"At the core of the problem is that this is a music service that a lot of people actually pay for," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

"You might expect this from a free social media app, but, with a service you pay for, your expectation of privacy is far higher," he told TechNewsWorld. "You don't expect to be mined for any of this, and it could -- in fact, likely will -- drive customers to other services."

Spotify's data gathering would be like "my CD store selling information captured about me on their cameras while I was in the store," Enderle remarked.

"When you sign up for a lot of these online sites, they ask if you want to sign in through your Facebook or LinkedIn account, and they will then access your contacts because they're looking to capture additional information," noted Susan Schreiner, an analyst at C4 Trends.

Spotify's basic service is free, but the company reportedly plans to adopt a premium-only, gated access model.

User Reactions

"Good corrective," Casey Newton wrote in response to "Spotify's new privacy policy generates unnecessary outrage" in The Verge.

"Overreactive outrage is this decade's vice of choice," said Peter Cooper.

"Am I the only one who does not feel offended by the new Spotify privacy policy?" asked Kostas Livieratos. "It just serves a better experience, wtf people?"

"BTW, if we know each other and you've got my contact info in your phone, I expect you to delete my info or uninstall Spotify, your choice," wrote Eleanor Saitta.

"New Spotify privacy policy is an utter disgrace. I won't recommend service again -- and I have many times until now," said Glyn Moody.

"If you value your privacy, drop Spotify," suggested Rebecca Mickley.

Sorry Doesn't Cut It

Ek's apology is "not even close," Enderle said.

Spotify should offer "an opt-in backed up by solid customer benefits," he suggested.

"It remains to be seen how his apology actually translates -- the devil is in the details," Schreiner told TechNewsWorld.

"The way to roll out a new privacy policy is to communicate it very clearly and emphasize how the uses of the app or service have many choices to set their privacy settings," said Angela McIntyre, a research director at Gartner.

They could learn from Facebook, which "now sends messages to users to remind them to update their privacy policy settings and other apps," she told TechNewsWorld. That would "get you off on the right foot from the start."


Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.


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