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Why a Team of Swedish Researchers Have Spotify Scared

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The Swedish research team behind Spotify Teardown: Inside the Black Box of Streaming Music, recently spoke with Rolling Stone about their new book. In this interview, the team reveals that Spotify has been less than enthused about their project.

Spotify Teardown looks at Spotify from a scholarly, critical lens. The team intended to question what’s really behind the streaming giant, and if the platform’s even really about music. The researchers have a background in the social sciences (not tech or engineering), an area that has yet to really break any ground on platform research.

Apparently part of the problem had to do with tech companies not wanting their listeners to question their services. In the process of their research, Spotify attempted to pull the team’s research funding and halt the project. Although Spotify claimed to be concerned about violations of their terms of use, it’s clear that the company really doesn’t want users to know what’s behind their algorithms.

The project as a whole forces us to question the ethics of big “music” business. Despite claims that they’re all about music, Spotify recently made a push to add podcasts to their business docket. Their business is moving in a far different direction than their branding might suggest.

And, if users can’t access information on exactly how the algorithms of major platforms work, it’s hard to see how recommendations and user rankings could be affecting our listening habits. For traditionally underrepresented communities, it can be a difference that makes or breaks their careers. With an increasing number of independent upload features, it could also determine whether a premium subscription is helpful for new artists or just another money grab from big companies.

Spotify Takedown is more thought-provoking than just the words on its pages. The book’s entire context forces us to question what we know about the music industry. Without critical scholarship, it’s hard to really know what these companies are after. And, is it really the place of these companies to intervene in research?

Do you think Spotify’s intervention is ethical? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!

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