Spotify CEO: We like your data but we love your privacy

The chief of the world's biggest subscription music service apologizes for confusion and fears about changes to Spotify's privacy policy, which discussed access to your contacts or photos.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
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Joan E. Solsman
2 min read

A company devoted to data, Spotify just got a lesson in how wanting to know everything about its customers can be a liability as well.

Founder and Chief Executive Daniel Ek apologized Friday for confusion about the streaming music service's new privacy policy, which caused an outburst of articles and social-media criticism that the company wanted to peek in on its customers too much.

Most of the terms that raised eyebrows go hand-in-hand with new features Spotify is banking on to distinguish itself as competition ratchets higher. Though its streaming music service is the most subscribed of its kind in the world, Spotify is hoping features like music that matches the pace of your running will give it an edge over the likes of Apple Music, which the technology giant launched in June.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek apologized for confusion and worries about new privacy terms. Sarah Tew/CNET

"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," Ek said in a blog post titled "SORRY."

For most elements that sparked popular worry -- access to photos, location, voice controls and contacts -- Ek said repeatedly that Spotify would never access those features without a customer's permission. To decorate a playlist or change your profile picture, the company needs permission to your photos, and to personalized recommendations, location data helps, he said. Voice controls, like telling Spotify to skip a track, need to employ your device's microphone, and one way of finding your friends on the service is by letting Spotify cross-reference with your contacts list, he wrote.

On one point, he noted the new privacy policy is the same as its predecessors: sharing with advertisers, rights holders and mobile networks. "Some Spotify subscribers sign up through their mobile provider, which means some information is shared with them by necessity," he said. Data that is given to marketers and advertisers is "de-identified," he said, so your individual information isn't linked to your identity.

The exposure of private digital behavior has been an attention-grabbing topic recently. The flare-up over Spotify's terms comes the same week that privacy hackers dumped the names of people who were customers of Ashley Madison, the online dating company for married people.