Why Spotify is apologizing to its users

CEO Daniel Ek blogged on how terms of a newly announced privacy policy weren't made clear to subscribers. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
A timeline of Spotify's history begins in the entryway to Spotify headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2014, the fast-growing company had 500 employees at headquarters and 1,500 employees worldwide. Spotify has revolutionized the music industry by offering subscriptions to its catalog of music. Subscribers listen to, but do not own, the music. Spotify is one example of Swedish innovation in this tech-savvy country.

The chief executive of popular music-streaming giant Spotify apologized in a statement Friday for a new privacy policy that has left users angry and has even caused some to leave.

The updated terms of service – now in effect – stated the company would begin to access data on users’ phones including pictures, contacts’ phone numbers, and location.

In addition to saying that users would be responsible for obtaining the permission of their phone contacts to share their information, Spotify said it would also be able to start viewing any public activity on social media accounts linked by the user, though critics note this can easily be changed under the preferences tab.

Still, it didn’t take long for the new policy to stoke controversy among users, who in total form a base of more than 75 million, according to the company’s website.

Many call the move an unnecessary intrusion on privacy, with some characterizing it as “eerie” and “creepy.”

One particularly vocal opponent was Minecraft creator Markus Persson, who announced on Twitter on Friday that he had canceled his account. “Spotify confirmed evil,” he wrote to his 2.4 million followers.

Before confirming he had left the service, Mr. Persson also appealed to the Swedish tech firm directly, saying: “As a consumer, I've always loved your service. You're the reason I stopped pirating music. Please consider not being evil.”

In an initial report Thursday, Wired reporter Gordon Gottsegen compared the company to “a jealous ex.”

“What kind of media files Spotify will collect from you is vague, and why the company needs it is unclear, but it’s doing it regardless,” he wrote. “Also, the fact that Spotify expects you to go through your contact list and ask everyone for their consent in sharing their data with Spotify is – what’s the word? Oh yes: it’s ridiculous.”

CEO Daniel Ek took to the company’s blog Friday to address the outcry, apologizing for the confusion surrounding its policy and vowing to be more transparent about its data collection.

“We have heard your concerns loud and clear,” wrote Mr. Ek in a post entitled “SORRY.”

Ek clarified that the new terms were meant only to “customize your Spotify experience.” He wrote that location data would be primarily used to “help personalize recommendations or to keep you up to date about music trending in your area.”

“And if you choose to share location information but later change your mind, you will always have the ability to stop sharing,” he emphasized.

The reasons for photo access? To allow users “to create personalized cover art for a playlist or to change your profile image,” he added. "We will never scan or import your photo library or camera roll."

Above all, the chief executive said, “We understand people’s concerns about their personal information and are 100 percent committed to protecting our users’ privacy and ensuring that you have control over the information you share.”

In the coming weeks, Spotify will update its policy with the new clarifications, said Ek. 

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