I will be the first to admit that I look forward to reviewing my Spotify Wrapped every December. Being presented with an annual summary of my listening habits always feels like a fun insight into my changing music taste and how the year’s events have influenced the songs I listen to. However, like many consumers in the digital era, I sometimes wonder what happens behind the scenes that allows for the creation of a perfectly packaged representation of my year in music.
Spotify Wrapped is one of the most direct illustrations of the data collection that Spotify engages in. Every December, the streaming service provides its users with their personal “year in review,” indicating how many minutes of music they listened to, their top artists, and other information about their listening habits. However, the light-hearted marketing of this project somewhat obscures the amount of personal data that is required to prepare an individual’s Spotify Wrapped: “to assemble your end-of-year hits playlist, the platform requires detailed information about everything you do and everything you hear when you use a platform many of us spend more time inside than any other. In 2016, the average Spotify user listened to roughly 2.5 hours of audio a day. That’s a colossal amount of data.” While much of this data seems fairly innocuous, a fair amount of personal detail can be gleaned from our listening habits. In addition to the biographical information required to create an account, Spotify closely tracks the ways in which users to listen to music, from logging what brand of headphones are being used to noting the exact moments when a user pauses a song. Almost every activity performed within the Spotify infrastructure is logged, and the resulting information is swept up into a complicated series of data analysis and algorithms for processing.
Spotify Wrapped’s exhibition of our personal information is done in a way that feels fun and non-invasive, and demonstrates a certain level of transparency with user data that many tech companies tend to avoid. Unlike most social media, which track user habits as well as the photos, messages, and other information willingly shared on these platforms, Spotify focuses its data collection on music listening habits, compiling and analyzing that information to create a demographic profile of the listener. However, like many tech companies, Spotify has adopted a “surveillance capitalist business model,” compiling user data and employing that data to “manipulate [users] into buying…products and services” via targeted advertisements.
In addition to concerns about the growing reliance on user data in advertising, Spotify’s application of algorithms has begun to impact the way listeners consume music. With its algorithms, Spotify “uses data from its consumers to generate music discovery delivered through playlists…[t]o create these playlists, Spotify tracks the music you listen to, organizes it into certain categories, measures tracks against other listeners, and uses that information to choose what music to show you.” The Spotify algorithm conflates streams with artistic value, and effectively rewards artists for creating songs that rack up more and more listens. Spotify’s software makes educated assumptions based on your listening tastes and attempts to share music that will align with your preferences, creating a feedback loop that focuses on the popular appeal of songs rather than their artistic value, which cannot as easily be evaluated by an algorithm.
A few years ago, I got tired of my music taste from 2012 influencing my current recommendations, so I got into the habit of deleting and remaking my Spotify every few months as a sort of “soft reset.” This forced the platform to relearn my taste in music, with greater emphasis on my current interests, and not what I listened to as an angsty teen. In addition, thanks in part to legislation like the California Consumer Privacy Act, there are limits on what personal information Spotify can sell to third-parties, and the streaming service provides users with the ability to opt out of targeted advertising. It has become increasingly difficult to use technology while protecting personal information, but on Spotify, there are still tools that help you take control of your data.
 Haley Weiss, Why People Love Spotify’s Annual Wrap-Ups, Atlantic (Dec. 12, 2018), https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/12/spotify-wrapped-and-data-collection/577930/ [https://perma.cc/VLZ7-DWLX] [https://web.archive.org/web/20221021184031/https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/12/spotify-wrapped-and-data-collection/577930/].
 Matt Burgess, All the Ways Spotify Tracks You—and How to Stop It, Wired (Aug. 7, 2021), https://www.wired.com/story/spotify-tracking-how-to-stop-it/ [https://perma.cc/3DT5-23KX] [https://web.archive.org/web/20221021184647/https://www.wired.com/story/spotify-tracking-how-to-stop-it/].
 Jack Morse, How to Stop Spotify from Sharing Your Data, and Why You Should, Mashable (Apr. 5, 2022), https://mashable.com/article/spotify-user-privacy-settings [https://perma.cc/78J9-467Q] [https://web.archive.org/web/20221021184743/https://mashable.com/article/spotify-user-privacy-settings].
 Kelly Pau, Spotify Wrapped, Unwrapped, Vox (Dec. 2, 2021), https://www.vox.com/culture/22814121/spotify-wrapped-2021-algorithm-data-privacy [https://perma.cc/332A-79N7] [https://web.archive.org/web/20221021183905/https://www.vox.com/culture/22814121/spotify-wrapped-2021-algorithm-data-privacy].
 Liz Pelly, #Wrapped and Sold, Baffler (Dec. 3, 2020), https://thebaffler.com/downstream/wrapped-and-sold-pelly [https://perma.cc/KKT3-URAJ] [https://web.archive.org/web/20221021184608/https://thebaffler.com/downstream/wrapped-and-sold-pelly].
 Spotify, Additional California Privacy Disclosures (June 8, 2022), https://www.spotify.com/us/legal/california-privacy-disclosure/plain/ [https://perma.cc/P744-EEUV] [https://web.archive.org/web/20221021184851/https://www.spotify.com/us/legal/california-privacy-disclosure/plain/].