Musicians and digital rights activists launch campaign targeting Spotify over surveillance patent

Posted April 8, 2021, 11:55 AM

Fight for the Future has teamed up with the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) to launch a campaign demanding Spotify abandon a patent it filed to use artificial intelligence voice recognition software to target music and ads. The campaign is accompanied by a music video for the song "Surveillance Capitalism” from Evan Greer, with proceeds donated to the #JusticeAt Spotify campaign

Digital rights group Fight for the Future has teamed up with the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) to launch StopSpotifySurveillance.org. The campaign calls on Spotify to drop reported plans to use artificial intelligence and voice recognition software to spy on listeners’ conversations, conducting emotional surveillance and manipulation to target music and advertising. The campaign comes after human rights group Access Now sent a letter to Spotify demanding they abandon the surveillance patent last week.

The campaign is accompanied by a dystopian new video for the song “Surveillance Capitalism” from trans femme indie-punk artist Evan Greer (she/her), which blends layers of melodic indie punk guitars with audio samples from anti-surveillance activists and icons like Chelsea Manning, Jacinta Gonzalez of Mijente, Malkia Cyril of Media Justice, and author Ursula K Leguin.

The video release provides a sneak peak at the song off Greer’s new album Spotify is Surveillance, which drops this Friday, April 9th on Get Better Records and Don Giovanni Records. Greer plans to donate all artist proceeds from the song to the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers to support their existing #JusticeAtSpotify campaign, calling for better pay, an end to Payola, and more transparency.

Greer says, "The fact that Spotify filed a patent for this type of emotional surveillance and manipulation is beyond chilling. It’s not enough for them to say that they have no plans to use this technology right now, they should publicly commit to never conducting this type of surveillance on music listeners. Surveillance capitalism as a business model is fundamentally incompatible with basic human rights and democracy, regardless of whether it’s being employed by Facebook, Amazon, or Spotify. The song and video highlight the fact that the Internet has the potential to profoundly transform our society for the better, abolishing false scarcity and enabling universal access to human knowledge and creativity, while ensuring marginalized and independent artists and creators are fairly compensated for our labor. But if we allow a small handful of companies to dominate the web and the music industry with a parasitic business model based on surveillance and exploitation, we’re headed for the opposite: a dystopian future where algorithms decide what we see and hear based on profit, rather than artistry."

UMAW and Fight for the Future are encouraging artists and concerned listeners to sign the petition at StopSpotifySurveillance.org, and are calling for the company to publicly commit to not using voice recognition surveillance on the platform.