Musicians ask Spotify to publicly abandon controversial speech recognition patent

Signees include Tom Morello, Talib Kweli, DIIV and more.

Lucas Jackson / reuters

At the start of the year, Spotify secured a patent for a voice recognition system that could detect the “emotional state,” age and gender of a person and use that information to make personalized listening recommendations. As you might imagine, the possibility that the company was working on a technology like that made a lot of people uncomfortable, including digital rights non-profit Access Now. At the start of April, the organization sent Spotify a letter calling on it to abandon the tech. After Spotify privately responded to those concerns, Access Now, along with several other groups and a collection of more than 180 musicians, are asking the company to publicly commit to never using, licensing, selling or monetizing the system it patented. Some of the individuals and bands to sign the letter include Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, rapper Talib Kweli and indie group DIIV.

In a new letter addressed to Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, the coalition outlines five primary concerns with the technology. It worries it will allow Spotify or any other company that deploys it to manipulate users emotionally, harvest their personal information and discriminate against trans and non-binary people. It also says the technology will only serve to further worsen economic inequalities in the music industry. “Music should be made for human connection, not to please a profit-maximizing algorithm,” the group says. Access Now asks Spotify to publicly respond to its request by May 18th, 2021.

When we asked Spotify to comment on Access Now’s request, the company pointed Engadget to a letter it sent to the organization in mid-April. “Spotify has never implemented the technology described in the patent in any of our products and we have no plans to do so,” Horacio Gutierrez, Spotify’s head of global affairs, says in the letter. “The decision to patent an invention does not always reflect the company’s intent to implement the invention in a product, but is instead influenced by a number of other considerations, including our responsibilities to our users and to society at large.”