Richardson: Spotify Wrapped Makes Invasive Data Collection Cool and Trendy


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As Canada waits for new data privacy legislation in 2022, I recently got a glimpse of the evolution of notions of privacy as teens create and communicate their identities online. Three of my Grade 12 English students were discussing “Spotify Wrapped,” in which the popular music streaming service gives subscribers a shareable year-end summary of their listening.

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To find out more, I interviewed students Charlie, Serena and Natalie as well as Dr Mark Andrejevic, professor of media studies at Monash University in Australia and author of iSpy: Surveillance and Power in the Interactive Era.

First off, Charlie introduced me to Spotify’s smooth multimedia presentation. “This year was anything but normal,” the app told us as the graphics unfolded. “If 2021 was a movie, you were the main character. And what is a film without an original soundtrack? The theme of the opening credits? Driver’s license by Olivia Rodrigo. The song that played as you took on your rival dance team? Ariana Grande positions.

Statistics and deductions followed. “You spent 59,277 minutes listening. That’s over 93 percent of all other listeners in Canada. Your audio aura is “nostalgic” and “focused”. You listened to 68 different genres. Now go ahead and proudly share your top tastes with the world.

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Spotify Wrapped and its rival Apple Music Replay are major trends. “When Wrapped comes out on December 1, you just type, type, type,” Serena told me. “Every social media entry is people’s screenshots of their Spotify.”

Competition plays a role. “It might say you’re in the top 93 percent of the best listeners, but someone else is going to say, oh, like mine was 95 percent,” Natalie said.

The only people who knew about my teenage musical tastes were a few friends and my parents, forced to listen to The Unforgettable Fire and Abbey Road through my bedroom wall. Today, Instagram posts on Wrapped provide an effective way for teens to communicate their musical tastes and evolving identities.

Are students concerned about intrusive data collection? Not at all.

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“You know what you’re getting into when you go on social media and share your life,” Serena said. “It’s obvious they’re using your stuff. To illustrate the public nature of teenage life, she showed me her phone’s Snap Maps, which revealed the real-time locations of all of her friends. “We know where everyone is all the time,” she said. “There is so much more to worry about than music.”

Spotify smartly takes data collection that might be considered invasive and makes it cool and hip, Andrejevic told me. “They can learn a lot about the pace of people’s daily lives. “

A phone’s accelerometer will even collect data on how and when a person is moving. “It would probably scare people if they got any notes saying that we noticed you tend to wake up around two in the morning. Or we noticed that at this particular time of the weekend you start to play romantic music, so we’re going to make some deductions about your love life.

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“If you advertise yourself to think of adolescents as some kind of experimental population,” said Andrejevic, “you have a much greater capacity to subject them to all types of experimentation and manipulation than you have. never had in the mass media environment. “

How will this unprecedented corporate data collection impact the future lives of young people? Nobody knows.

At the end of our interview, my students asked me about my own listening habits and I took a look at my Apple Music Replay 2021 and then, well, I changed the subject. My 147 hours of listening and unwavering devotion to a 79-year-old, formerly moped Liverpudlian are best kept private, at least between me and Apple.

John M. Richardson is a high school teacher in Ottawa and in charge of the Imagination, Creativity and Innovation cohort of students at the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa.

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