Spotify logo with "no" symbol about blocking

Jason Reed/The Daily Dot

‘Spotify is aiding and abetting abusers’: Users call out streaming music giant for lacking a block feature

Most sites let you block an unwanted person. Spotify does not.

 

Colleen Hagerty

Tech

Published Jun 11, 2021   Updated Jun 14, 2021, 9:49 am CDT

In 2013, a Spotify user named Liam posted on the streaming service’s community forum, requesting a feature to block followers. The three-sentence request quickly racked up dozens of comments, with other users chiming in to endorse the idea. Some shared personal experiences of exes they wished to cut communications with that continued to appear on their Spotify pages; others threatened to leave the platform over what they perceived to be a lack of privacy. 

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About a month after the post was created, Spotify updated its status to “Under Consideration,” where it stalled for about five years. Then, in 2018, the company commented on the post once again, this time changing it to “Good idea, vote for it.”

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“We definitely think this is a strong idea, however it isn’t in our current road map,” the status update reads. “If there are any updates on blocking Spotify followers we will let you know here first.”

Another three years have passed, and thousands have now chimed in to request this feature. Upwards of 13,000 people have voted for it on that post. A Change.org petition calling for the ability to block has more than 18,000 signatures. But despite years of these pleas, many accompanied by personal accounts of how the “follow” feature was used to stalk or harass users, Spotify still has no option for individuals to block or remove followers themselves. 

Spotify Blocking

By default, all Spotify users are public, meaning anything they listen to, any playlist they create, or anyone they follow is accessible to anyone interested. There is a private option that users can select to prevent others from seeing their listening activity, but it does not address the issue of curating a follower list. And, as Heather Burns, a policy manager for the Open Rights Group, a United Kingdom-based digital privacy and free speech organization, points out, it puts the onus on users to remember to repeatedly change this setting.

“Why should any of us have to take steps every single time we start up the Spotify app to go into Private Mode and protect our privacy from strangers or cyberstalkers who can surveil us with no recourse?” Burns wrote in an email to the Daily Dot, adding that the ability to block users is a “fundamental feature” for most applications and could be considered “integral to data protection by design,” as required under European data protection law. 

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Burns recently drew attention back to the issue, tweeting earlier this month, “If any litigious types work in the nexus of privacy and domestic violence, @Spotify still refuses to allow users to block followers, despite 8 years of public requests. Outcome: countless people being stalked & harassed via Spotify, who say blocking is ‘not on the product roadmap.’”

“When you consider that many of the users asking for the ability to block followers are victims of crime or domestic violence, who have no way to remove their abusers from being able to monitor literally every song they are listening to online and what time they are listening to it, it’s hard not to say that Spotify are aiding and abetting abusers,” Burns said. “The mere presence of a harasser’s photo in a followers list, as if to say ‘I’m watching you,’ is itself a continuation of abuse.” 

Burns’ thread attracted attention from a number of influential figures in the technology and privacy spaces including Evan Greer, the director of Fight for the Future, an organization dedicated to defending “basic rights in the digital age.” Greer, who is also a musician herself and recently released an album called Spotify is Surveillance, told the Daily Dot she sees this as just the latest example of “the company’s reckless disregard for anything other than maximizing profits.”

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“Online harassment is a real problem that most platforms of Spotify’s size have taken at least basic steps to address,” she wrote in an email. “It’s absurd that a company with Spotify’s resources continues to ignore this issue, which disproportionately harms marginalized people, Black and brown folks, women, and the LGBTQ+ community.”

The lack of a blocking feature has remained top of mind for many users, too. A search through social media reveals it’s remained a regular complaint on sites like Reddit and Twitter in recent years. A few weeks before Burns’ thread, Spotify user Jess Stewart-Lee tweeted her own thread about the issue.

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Stewart-Lee told the Daily Dot by email that she’d been frustrated for “some time” about the inability to block users by the time she turned to Twitter to vent. 

“I had some issues with someone following me who I wanted to block, primarily because I think the ‘Friend Activity’ feature is far more invasive than a lot of people realize,” Stewart-Lee said. While she enjoys the ability to follow friends, saying she finds it a “neat way to keep in touch with others,” she also believes a “block” or “force unfollow” feature is necessary for any platform to have today. 

“Because Spotify is so prevalent in so many peoples’ lives, and depending on the way that it is used, the ‘’Activity’ feature can reveal whole swathes of very personal details—even if it’s simply how you’re feeling or your favorite song, these features are still incredibly invasive for people who may be dealing with targeted harassment or other similar issues,” she continued. “I think the net benefit of implementing such features is incredibly high and would make me less anxious and unsure about using the service.” 

Stewart-Lee tagged Spotify in her tweets, but she says she did not receive a response. Another user who complained about the lacking feature on Twitter, Marissa McPeak, says her tweet on the topic days later did receive a response.

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McPeak told the Daily Dot by email that she had first wanted to remove a follower due to an incident that occurred six years ago. She says she was shocked and upset that Spotify, which she pays for, had failed to implement this requested feature since then. The @SpotifyCares account responded to her tweet, and McPeak says she was able to successfully make a case for having that follower removed for her own privacy and safety. While she now feels safer, she believes this is a choice users should be able to make on their own, without having to deal with Spotify support as the intermediary, as is the standard on other social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. 

“When we’re online, we should be able to choose who we want to share information with, whether that’s photos or music playlists. Not everyone needs to be aware of what we are up to or listening to,” McPeak wrote. “Digital safety is important for everyone, but even more important for survivors of any traumatic experience to preserve their mental health and well-being.”

Following an inquiry from the Daily Dot, Spotify posted another update to that original 2013 request on Tuesday. Along with promoting that users can contact Spotify to permanently remove followers, it announced that Spotify was changing the status of this request once again based on the demand—now, to “under consideration.” 

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*First Published: Jun 11, 2021, 7:00 am CDT