Spotify Flirts with Surveillance Tech

Volume II, Issue XVI

Hi again everyone, hope y’all having a swell start of the year so far!

For the next few weeks, I’m going to try something a little bit different with the newsletter. In an attempt to reduce the length down and make the posts a bit more readable, I’m breaking the newsletter into two editions. One will mostly feature a longer essay focusing on one topic while the other one (today’s) will feature an overview of the week’s news. While the titles and days of publication are likely to change, today I’m rolling with “The Weekly Rundown.” And if y’all are itching for more of Mack Lagoy’s images, don’t worry, they’ll be back to accompany the longer essays.

Also, some other big news … I have a podcast! While not directly related to the newsletter, the podcast does cross some familiar territory and spend a good chunk of time talking through some thorny surveillance issues. It’s called The Future is Ow, and it’s available on SoundCloud. You can give it a listen below. Super excited about this.

Oh and one more thing. The State of Surveillance has a Discord channel! While it has been a bit inactive of late because of my schedule, I’m looking to really liven it up in the coming weeks and months. If you want to discuss these topics with other readers and have more immediate access to the news, check it out here.

The Weekly Run-Down

🚐 1: Amazon Using Cameras With AI to Spy on Its Drivers 🚐 

Amazon delivery drivers are about to work under a state of constant surveillance. That’s according to recent reports from CNBC and The Information which claim the ecommerce behemoth began installing AI-equipped cameras into vehicles to monitor the driver’s movement.

  • The AI cameras, made by the company Netradyne, can reportedly detect 16 different safety violates, ranging from hard braking, and distracted driving to speeding (don’t ask me how that’s possible when it’s facing the driver). It can also reportedly determine whether or not the driver is wearing a seat belt. 

  • Ostensibly, the surveillance systems are being pitched as a driver safety measure. 

  • An Amazon spokesperson said the AI could analyze a driver’s movements and “deliver real-time alerts to help them stay on the road.” 

In reality, these cameras are reportedly being used during hiring practices and could leave drivers carrying a constant sense of paranoia. 

  • A privacy policy issued by Amazon confirms the footage obtained by the cameras can be used for disciplinary action or even firing of Amazon workers. 

The news comes just weeks after Amazon was forced to pay $61.7 million dollars in fines to the Federal Trade commission for allegedly failing to pay tips out to its drivers.

  • In that case, Amazon used the tips it guaranteed to its Flex delivery drivers to pay out the difference of their hourly pay increase from $18 to $25 per hour.

  • Around the same time, The Financial Times reported that Ring, the company’s smart doorbell surveillance system, is actively working with over 2,000 law enforcement agencies—a figure much higher than previously known. 

Annie Palmer, CNBC 


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2: 🎵 Spotify Patents Microphone Listening Technology for Music Targeting 🎵

Spotify may soon be able to listen to sounds in your room and determine whether you are happy or sad; alone or in a group, and then recommended you music based off that data.

  • That’s according to a recent patent filing discovered by PitchFork.

  • The patented technology can reportedly extract a listener’s, “intonation, stress, rhythm, and the likes of units of speech,” among other data points.

  • The patent could reportedly use speech recognition to determine someone’s emotional state, gender age, or environment.

  • Ultimately, Spotify wants to use these behavioral analytics, collected while a user’s going through thier day, to replace the current model which recommends audio based off of previous tracks you’ve listened to or liked.

The patent, if brought to market, follows a larger trend of Spotify moving towards behavioral categories.

  • If you take a look through Spotify’s search function now, there’s an entire “Mood” section dedicated to curating behavior.

  • This section includes a collection of cringe-worthy titles, ranging from “Feelin’ Myself” to “my life is a movie” to “Swagger,” and maybe my personal favorite, “Femme Fatale.”

  • Most of these playlists also appear within other genre sections. I’ve also sometimes seen these promoted in my feed.

It only makes sense that Spotify would want to dive full force into the Surveillance Capitalism attention economy.

  • Spotify gathers troves of personal data from me and millions of others every day.

  • Music is often deeply personal, and Spotify listeners act under the assumption that they’re listing in private.

  • In reality, the app can analyze your listening habits to see when you are down in the dumps, when you are happy, or when you’re feeling nostalgic for some early 2000’s Butt Rock. All of those data points are extremely valuable for advertisers.

  • Data harvesting is crucial to Spotify’s success: the admittedly pretty great ability for its Discover playlist to consistently find a least a few new music gems for me every week is a direct result of the company’s investment in personal data analysis. All of this has helped Spotify acquire a market valuation of somewhere around $50 billion.

Noah Yoo, Pitchfork


✈️ 3: Baltimore Deals Death Blow To its Aerial Surveillance Program ✈️

The city of Baltimore has severed ties with a company providing aerial surveillance of the city four years after the spy planes first took off. 

  • The planes, developed by Persistent Surveillance Systems, first hit the skies in 2016 under a secret partnership with the Baltimore Police Department. 

  • Baltimore was suffering from record homicide rates and other violent crimes at the time and the planes were pitched as a way to quickly gather aerial footage to help solve crime. 

  • Pressure from residents led a temporary halting of the flyover, but they picked back up again in 2019, this time focusing on areas deemed the most dangerous and funded entirely by private donors. 

Baltimore’s aerial surveillance program presented a serious invasion of personal privacy while simultaneously failing to actually aid in crime prevention. 

  • According to a study published by the right-wing Rand corporation, BPDs aerial surveillance program only found evidence in 158 of 1,532 crimes committed in a six month period. 

  • In this respect, the aerial surveillance program failed where so many other surveillance systems have before. 

Activist groups, including the ACLU issued multiple lawsuits against the city demand an end to the program. Many apples later, that end came.

  • “Baltimore’s termination of its unconstitutional spy plane program is a hard-fought victory for all Baltimoreans, especially for the Black leaders who challenged this and the communities of color who are disproportionately targeted by this surveillance,” ACLU senior staff attorney  Max Kaufman said in an emailed statement.

  • “This decision is a long-overdue recognition that this kind of all-seeing surveillance technology has no place in our cities.”

Jayne Miller WBALTV, and Sydney Fussell, Wired 

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📱 4: Court Rules Border Agents can Confiscate Your Device and Search Through It 📱 

The next time you or any other traveler passes customs, you might have to relinquish your phone to a border agent who can rummage through it and copy your personal information.

  • That’s due to a recent US Appeals court ruling overturning a previous ruling restricting the practices. 

  • Specifically, the ruling allows border agents to conduct both basic and advanced searches of the devices of people entering points of entry. Agents can legally scroll through an individual’s phone and even make copies of data, all without a warrant. 

Searches of devices skyrocketed in recent years under the Trump presidency and amid an era of ever-increasing dependency on mobile devices. 

  • According to Reuters, electronic device searches jumped during the Trump presidency jumped from 30,200 in 2017 to 40,913 two years later. 

Despite impassioned appeals from civil liberty groups for restraint, the courts claimed a requirement for border patrol agents to obtain a warrant before searching devices would “hamstring” them. 

  • In her ruling, First Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch claimed, “Electronic device searches do not fit neatly into other categories of property searches, but the bottom line is that basic border searches of electronic devices do not involve an intrusive search of a person.” 

Nate Raymond, Reuters 


Here’s What Else is New

🇲🇲 In Denying denying national election results, the Myanmar coup follows Trump's playbook.

🗽New York’s trying to be the next major American city to ban facial recognition

  • If successful, it would join Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston.

📹 Clearview AI deemed illegal by Candian Law

  • Filed to, “shit everyone else already knew.”

📖 Here’s how censorship can influence algorithms


That’s it for now. As always, please feel free to reach out to me at thestateofsurveillance@gmail.com or Mack.degeurin@gmail.com

Have a nice weekend y’all.