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Spotify patents tech to monitor your speech, infer emotion

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(Hypebot) — In the ‘doesn’t seem creepy at all’ department, streaming’s king of the ring, Spotify, recently received approval for a patent detailing the use of microphones to determine listeners’ emotional state, accent, and age, among other things.

Guest post by James Shotwell of Haulix

Spotify wants to know its users better, but its plans to do so are causing a stir online.

Have you ever opened Instagram or Facebook and saw an advertisement for something you were recently discussing in conversation? You never looked for the product on those apps, yet they seem to know what you want? If so, you’re not alone.

Many people believe big tech companies are spying on users’ behavior to create smarter algorithms that serve targeted ads. While that hasn’t been proven, it is eerie to see how well the algorithms currently in use understand your wants and needs.

Spotify’s latest patent is fanning the flames of spyware conspiracies, and it’s not hard to see the connection. The company filed a patent detailing how it could use microphones to determine people’s “emotional state, gender, age, or accent,” according to Music Business Worldwide.

The patent application was submitted back in 2018, but it wasn’t awarded until January 2021. The proposed tech would use its inferences about users to make listening recommendations. If it thinks you’re angry, for example, it may suggest a heavy metal playlist. If you just got dumped, maybe some Juice WRLD will soothe your broken heart.

The company also intends to throw in environmental sounds to the mix, like “vehicles on a street, other people talking, birds chirping, printers printing, and so on,” allowing for context-based recommendations. For example, if the algorithm believes you’re in Los Angeles, it will recommend songs and artists that people visiting the West Coast typically enjoy.

Many questions surrounding the patent have no clear answers. It’s not likely that Spotify will reveal more information about its plans until their tech is ready if such a product ever exists in the first place. Patents are often a legal cover for ideas or experiments a company considers but may ultimately never use.

But if the day comes to pass when Spotify introduces its listening tools, you can be certain some users will be upset. People will want to know when the app is listening, and they will want the ability to opt-out of sharing their life with a tech giant.

It’s important to remember that most of us already share more data with tech giants like Spotify than we realize. Our phones know where we are, what we look for, who we speak to, what we listen to, what movies we plan to watch, and we’re hoping to purchase. Similar information is known by countless websites that we visit, and many share their data with others to build smarter algorithms to keep us hooked on their products. You can call it insidious, or you can call it smart business. Either way, our data isn’t really ours anymore.

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company’s podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.

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