For just under a year now, we’ve been seeing Spotify make acquisition after acquisition and product update after product update in order to establish a foothold in the ad-targeting space. Now, the company’s embarking on a new dataset for this purpose: your voice.
This update was a bit of a footnote to the new Spotify voice commands that were first noticed on Wednesday by GSMArena. While the company didn’t make an official announcement about the new feature, some iOS and Android Spotify-ers began noticing prompts to enable a new voice-powered search function within the app. Similar to the way you might say “Hey Google” or “Hey Alexa” for your smart home devices, the new Spotify feature prompts users to say, “Hey Spotify,” as a way to activate it.
While I didn’t personally receive a notification, I noticed that I, too, could enable this function by hitting the “settings” button in my Spotify app and turning on “Voice Interactions.”
It’s worth noting here that Spotify’s been testing this wake word function in its mobile app for about a year now. Going back to 2019, the company even began testing out a similar tool for folks that might be driving, called—not even kidding—the “Car Thing.”
After downloading the update, one of the first things that I noticed was that this update takes much more kindly to certain artists as opposed to others. Telling Spotify to play, say, the Beatles or Pink Floyd, or newly christened Grammy winner Dua Lipa, and you’ll get what you ask for. That’s not always the case with more obscure artists, or those with difficult to pronounce names. Just as an example, no matter how many times I tried getting Spotify to play an album by the experimental noise-rock duo Xiu Xiu (pronounced “shoo shoo,” for the folks at home), Spotify wouldn’t stop playing the 70's funk hit “Shoe Shoe Shine.”
Another nugget that stuck out to me was that upon turning this feature on, Spotify pointed me towards a page that laid out exactly how my voice data would be collected, stored, and used.
The first thing Spotify mentions on this page is that by turning on these controls, you’re not only enabling the “Hey Spotify” feature but others as well—even potentially “interacting with some advertisements” using your voice. In fact, voice-powered ads are an idea that Spotify’s been kicking around for about two years: Back in May 2019, the company rolled out a limited run of ads for particular Spotify podcasts—if users said a certain magic word, it would direct them to listen to that show’s latest episode.
Since then, it looks like the company’s only rolled out one major voice-powered ad campaign this past summer, but has been relatively quiet on the project since then. Rolling out this new “Hey Spotify” campaign could be a way to quietly push more users into bringing these sorts of voice-powered ads onto their devices, albeit in a semi-sneaky way. In a similar vein, Spotify also notes in its policy that your voice data will be used to serve you more “relevant”—i.e., targeted—ads.
On the bright side, Spotify makes it crystal clear that there’s only some voice data that’s being used towards this end. Per the policy, Spotify only starts receiving your voice data when you say the wake word (or hit the record button), up until “ Spotify has processed your question or request.” Your phone will also “always indicate to you when Spotify is receiving your voice input,” the company added, “for example with a visual indicator or an audible tone.”