Monday 11 December 2023

Guest Blog: Christopher Till on Spotify's datafication of user health

by Christopher Till

Till, C. (2023). Spotify as a technology for integrating health, exercise and wellness practices into financialised capitalism. Big Data & Society, 10(2).

Over the last few years I have noticed how Spotify, and similar music streaming services, have produced content and tailored services with the intention of helping us to improve our health and to exercise more. While looking into their innovations in this area (e.g. matching music tempo to running cadence, automatically generating playlists for particular activities) I began to wonder what business interests were driving this (aside from simply retaining subscribers). To explore this I analysed Spotify’s patent applications (to see what innovations they have in the works and how they plan to datafy and analyse user interactions), financial statements and industry interviews and press releases amongst other materials. I found that the failure of Spotify’s subscription service to turn a profit (as yet) or provide sufficient growth to please shareholders has led them to engage in increasing attempts to financialize the practices of their users. Health, exercise and wellness practices are presented as a particularly fruitful area of exploitation which Spotify can datafy in such a way to make them amenable to targeted advertising and therefore tell a story to investors about the growth and future profitability of the company. So, users’ everyday lives are increasingly seen as commercially useful sites to be mined for insights for targeted advertising and health, exercise and wellness practices are integrated by Spotify into the financialized networks of digital capitalism.