Spotify Wrapped Is Creepy

Amanda Scherker on 2019-12-12

Illustration by Jacob Salamon

Who’s your most listened-to artist of 2019?

If you’re one of Spotify’s 217 million monthly listeners, you can now answer that with data-backed precision.

That’s thanks to Spotify Wrapped 2019, a feature which aggregates up to a decade’s worth of your listening data to inform you of your top songs and your favorite artists. It can also tell you how your music taste changed over the seasons of 2019 and over the entire decade. People positively reveled in the data Spotify “generously” supplied them with, posting the results all over social media with varying degrees of sheepishness and pride. (“Guess I only listened to the Rent soundtrack?” “Alright, who was streaming to Post Malone on my account?” etc.)

The Wrapped feature, all bright colors, helpful compilations, and inarguably well-customized playlists, was so innocuous and friendly, it’s easy not to ask a pretty glaring question: Why is Spotify surveilling every song you listen to? And are they doing anything else with that information?

Ever since whistleblower Edward Snowden unmasked the frightening extent of surveillance going down at the NSA, people have become increasingly aware of, and arguably grown inured to, the continued overreach of government surveillance.

But there’s a perhaps less-universally-feared form of surveillance that is equally permeating our lives: surveillance by corporations, and, in the case of Spotify, by streaming services.

As the New York Times wrote earlier this year, a growth in surveillance infrastructure has allowed streaming services and advertisers to collaborate in establishing tracking technology that “quietly sops up information about their [users’] habits and uses it to target them with more relevant, traceable ads.” For example, Hulu offers advertisers the opportunity to present targeted advertisements to users based on “interests and real world actions — both on and off Hulu.”

While some argue that this data serves to improve user experiences and inform them about more relevant products, there’s no denying the fact that receiving a too-on-the-nose ad can be unsettling. From Target figuring out a teen girl was pregnant to Facebook telling advertisers that it can tell when teens are feeling “insecure” or “worthless,” the overreach of…