I was listening to a podcast today that discussed how sensitive data the music streaming service spotify actually has access to. I hear it as if they are asking the question What conclusions would a human being be able to draw if they had access to my Spotify data? If the question is asked in this way, you will get completely different answers than if you ask what a machine can do with the same information. What it can predict and, by extension, how it can use it to manipulate humans. In more concrete terms, the difference is that a machine can do a lot of the extensive so-called meta-data. For example: Where are you, how are you moving, what device, when are you playing, who are you with when playing (can be tracked through wifi and Bluetooth), how quickly do you change songs, at what pace (speed, uneven, even) do you enter your searches? etc. etc. everything you can imagine and everything you can’t imagine.
This data is valuable in an algorithm, but would be perceived mostly as irrelevant noise by a human observer. Even more accurate predictions can be made by combining the data with other data sources (bank statements, emails, chats, etc.), but it is likely that the Spotify data alone can serve as an accurate thermometer of the person using/being used by the service. If a successful player offers their users access to everything everywhere in an app at a relatively low cost, it can be assumed that they are in the surveillance capitalism business1 until proven otherwise.
This is how our economy is currently structured. In a largely unregulated market, it is simply the easiest way to create profitable businesses. The big concern is that most people see breaches as bugs when they are actually features, meaning that their entire business models depend on it, while outwardly trying to make everyone believe that this was a terrible mistake and your privacy is important to us.
For a thorough review of the concept of surveillance capitalism, which describes the paradigm from an economic science point of view see: Zuboff, S. (2020). The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Hachette Book Group USA↩︎