Illustration: Samantha Moya

Spotify creeps on your music and moods to target ads

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By Urbi Khan

When you open up Spotify, you’re taken to the browse section of the application, whether you’re on a computer or on your phone. There are over billions of playlists based on genre and moods, organized in hubs. The mood hub will take you to playlists such as Happy Hits or Life Sucks. Whether you are happy, sad or just want to sing in the shower, the curated playlists will provide for your heart’s and ear’s desires.

The free version of Spotify is accessible to all and therefore music ownership is no longer a luxury. In the music consumption eras of strictly vinyl, CDs or even just music downloads, it was costly. It still is. Therefore, the free version of Spotify is an easy route to take for your music consumption even with the repetitive ads.

Spotify is a lucrative business platform. The music streaming service targets consumers with specific advertisements based on their listening habits.

It is a known factor that one’s music listening habits say a lot about one’s personality, and that’s the idea Spotify has been using to bank on its data analytics to help marketers target consumers with advertisements over the years, according to The Guardian.

Advertisements are targeted towards consumers based on the music that they are listening to and when and where they are listening to it. In other words, your music listening habits are not private.

The Spotify experiment

I have been using Spotify since 2012 before it even launched in Canada in 2014. Back then, location trackers were not as robust as they are now of course. I used the U.S. version of Spotify, but they kicked me out from time to time.

To this day, I still use that same free account and have yet to make the switch to premium. And over the years, I have noticed that the adverts are getting longer and they pop up randomly throughout different periods of my listening sessions.

And indeed, I have found that the adverts are targeted towards the type of music I am listening to and where I am listening to it. This finding led me to theorize that Spotify essentially spies on our music habits based on four factors: location, time, mood and genre. The factors help generate the adverts.

Over a period of 10 days, I decided to listen to music on Spotify using my laptop at certain hours of the day. I mainly listened to music in two locations: at my home and on Ryerson campus. I chose to listen to many different playlists, some of which are curated by Spotify as well as playlists I curated myself.

 

Spotify knew I was feeling “lonely” and decided to target adverts that would alleviate me of my so-called self-loathing ways

 

Going into the experiment, I applied many different variables to my theory. Two of the variables included “Genre + Mood = Ads and Locations” and “Location + Time = Genre and Ads.” I dispersed my listening sessions over the 10-day-period from 3 a.m. to 11 p.m. I chose playlists of many different genres from indie rock to Bollywood music.

I played ‘70s punk rock, ‘90s rap and 2000s pop playlists from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Spotify gave me contemporary young adult novel audio trailers that lasted 30 seconds. They were often repetitive and dispersed throughout the period of time. I received at least nine young adult novel ads. A particular one was repeated throughout, Hank Green’s An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.

When I played “sad” music, which included the playlist Life Sucks as well as indie rock and R&B artists such as Mac DeMarco, Mitski, Fiona Apple, Jhene Aiko and Frank Ocean, I received Lotto Max, Fit4Less and Skip the Dishes ads. Spotify knew I was feeling “lonely” and decided to target adverts that would alleviate me of my so-called self-loathing ways.

“Happy” music which included folk rock and artists such as Johnny Cash, Shawn Mendes, Queen, David Bowie and 2Pac gave me American charity freedom walk ads, TD credit card ads as well as movie trailer and show trailers. Two particular movie and show trailers I received included A Star is Born and the CW network’s new show All American. What I found particularly interesting about these adverts was the fact that they were also littered throughout my commute route from posters at TTC stations and banners across buses.

At the end of the 10 day experiment, my theory worked out. It made me realize how annoying and creepy the advertisements on Spotify are.

Spotify, data collection and you

Angela McLean, a fourth-year journalism student, says that she listens to music no matter what mood she is and mainly uses Spotify to find new music and curate playlists.

“I feel like lately they have increased the number of ads you get and decreased the number of songs in between ads,” says McLean. “So, with respect to that, it is quite annoying. I also think it’s worse when the ads are repetitive. If there were more variety I wouldn’t be as annoyed.”

 

Free comes with its own contract. Personal data collection is not necessarily a dangerous thing

 

Another student, Josh Seebalak in fourth-year electrical engineering, says that he made the switch to Spotify premium because of the ads. He says that Spotify has made music consumption on-the-go easier for him.

“The music I like is easily [searchable] as well as Spotify makes it easy to discover new music through the auto-generated playlists and the song radios,” says Seebalak. “All the music is labelled and the quality is good. Premium allows me to download music without having to use data. I have more than 3000 songs, 30 GB of music downloaded to my phone.”

We live in the day and age of personal data collection whether you use the free version of Spotify, Google or Snapchat. It is inevitable.

Advertisements through your music streaming apps and social media apps are how marketers can reach you and it is also how the companies who make these apps can make money. Free comes with its own contract. Personal data collection is not necessarily a dangerous thing.

With the free version of Spotify, be mindful of what your adverts are and why you receive them. The world of data analytics is a very fine-tuned one.

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