Spotify enrages users, apologizes over privacy changes

Music service wants access to users' photos, contacts, voice control and location

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Spotify is trying to calm down users after many threatened to stop using the music streaming service that recently announced significant changes to its user terms and conditions.

Users have been in an uproar on social media sites like Twitter, taking offense at Spotify's announcement that it will begin asking customers for access to their photos, address book, mobile phone location and sensor data.

The company said in a post about its updated terms that it wants to collect the information to improve the customer experience and inform product decisions.

"We are constantly innovating and evolving our service to deliver the best possible experience for our users," wrote Candice Katz, user communications manager at Spotify. "The data we access simply helps us to tailor improved experiences to our users, and build new and personalized products for the future."

Users quickly cried foul.

"Um no. Sorry spotify – I'm sorry to leave you but this goes too far. My SO has less access. @Spotify #privacy #tech, " tweeted berbels (

And carnalizer tweeted that he has already quit Spotify, writing, "There, @Spotify account ended. I suggest you do the same. Privacy policies like that must die. I'll happily resume sub after remedies."

According to a lot of tweets, Spotify's move may be a boon for other services, like Apple Music.

"Seems like a good time to finally cancel my Spotify account and go all-in on Apple Music," tweeted steipete ()

After the online tumult grew, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek tried to ease concerns and offer an apology, putting up his own post today.

"We should have done a better job in communicating what these policies mean and how any information you choose to share will – and will not – be used," he wrote. "We understand people's concerns about their personal information and are 100% committed to protecting our users' privacy and ensuring that you have control over the information you share."

He noted in the post that Spotify will always ask users before accessing their photos, contacts, voice controls and location. If the user declines the request, Spotify, he says, will not access it.

Ek also said, for instance, that if users allow the service to access their photos, the company will only use or access images that the user specifically chooses to share. "Those photos would only be used in ways you choose and control – to create personalized cover art for a playlist or to change your profile image, for example," he added.

As for accessing users' voice control features, Ek said future versions of the service could be built to enable people to navigate, skip songs or pause music hands-free. Spotify would not access users' voice controls without express permission.

"Again, we have heard your concerns loud and clear," he wrote. "We are also going to update the new Privacy Policy in the coming weeks to better reflect what we have explained above."

Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst, said Spotify made a big mistake by risking users' loyalty and making privacy an issue at all.

"Every year we go further and deeper into this dark cauldron where more privacy is taken away from us," he told Computerworld. "It's long past time for everyone to finally wake up and to protect their privacy. If they don't do it, no one will. Eventually companies will learn where the line is and not cross over it or they will lose."

However, that has not happened.

For years, Facebook, the world's largest social network, has repeatedly angered users over privacy issues and users have repeatedly threatened a mass exodus from the network. It's never happened.

Facebook has become too engrained in the way people connect with family and friends for users to easily walk away from it. That may not be the case with Spotify, which has more competition, from services like Songza and Pandora -- in the streaming music market.

"Because this is a very different kind of service from Facebook, folks are more likely to abandon it, particularly if the news coverage continues like it is at the moment," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. "When you are paying for a service, you expect to have a great deal more control over the personal information they are capturing and using."

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said he understands the customer uproar Spotify has created and added that it will be interesting if a mea culpa from the company and an explanation will mend fences with its users.

"I think Spotify made a mistake here," he said. "If Spotify keeps violating people's trust, they will leave because unlike Facebook, which has become our social hub, Spotify has a lot more viable competitors."

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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