Spotify Intros Its Own Voice Assistant for Popular Music App

Audio streaming service Spotify unveiled a voice assistant with the wake phrase “Hey Spotify” on Android and iOS. Unlike other voice assistants, the app must be open to work; it will play a song, pull up a playlist and tune into a radio station as well as skip and pause. App researcher Jane Manchun Wong reported that the mobile version of the feature has been in the works for at least a year. It is enabled via the “settings” button in the Spotify app where the user turns on “voice interactions.” Spotify is now facing privacy questions.

The Verge reports that it discovered that the “play something I like” command resulted in playing a random song in its Daily Mix playlists. It found another manual way to activate the feature: Settings > Microphone permissions > Hey Spotify.

The Verge speculates that Spotify has launched this feature because the company is “tracking toward its own hardware, such as headphones or earbuds, where its voice assistant will be always on and always ready.” It mentions that Spotify debuted Car Thing, a dedicated smart phone for the vehicle, in January 2019.

Gizmodo reports that the new feature “takes much more kindly to certain artists as opposed to others,” saying that playing the Beatles or Pink Floyd is a lot easier than “more obscure artists, or those with difficult to pronounce names.”

The reviewer adds 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.” Of special note was the information that “by turning on these controls, you’re not only enabling the ‘Hey Spotify’ feature but … even potentially ‘interacting with some advertisements’ using your voice.”

That is reminiscent of a May 2019 rollout of “a limited run of ads for particular Spotify podcasts,” and Gizmodo opines that the 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.”

Spotify also spelled out in its policy that voice data will be used to serve targeted ads, although “only some voice data that’s being used towards this end … [and your phone will] always indicate to you when Spotify is receiving your voice input, for example with a visual indicator or an audible tone.”

Engadget reports that Spotify specified to users that “the voice helper was strictly optional … [and is] also adamant that the assistant isn’t recording everything you say.” It captures the data when the user says the wake word or taps the action button “and stops when it’s done handling the request … [and] there will always be an in-app audiovisual cue, such as the tone that plays during voice-enabled ads.”

In addition to targeted ads, Spotify “shared some info with cloud storage providers and other partners when necessary for Spotify to work.”