Thanks to Spotify, there's a playlist for everything—even your COVID-19 vaccination.
According to a recent blog post published by the streaming giant, Spotify listeners have created more than 7,700 vaccine-related playlists globally in 2021. In the 90 days leading up to the post they noted a 350% increase in fan-generated Spotify playlists specific to COVID-19 inoculation, with many even naming their selections after the manufacturers responsible for the vaccine flowing through their veins.
So Spotify launched "Vaccine Songs," a whimsical playlist "to help soundtrack your own vaccine journey." With tracks ranging from clever puns ("Hit Me With Your Best Shot" by Pat Benatar) to low-hanging fruit ("The Cure" by Lady Gaga), the playlist is perfect for the quest to the elusive needle.
But is it really necessary to invite a major publicly traded company into your vaccination journey?
Using the data gathered from activity on the "Vaccine Songs" playlist, Spotify could partner with brands in the health and wellness space, many of which may push ambiguous products and services related to COVID-19 safety. Considering the mercurial nature of pandemic mandates instated by local governments, serving ads with roots to data gathered from vaccine-related content is quite risky. These ads could be funneled directly to users, who have no way of verifying whether or not the products were properly vetted by the streaming service's ad operations, who aren't exactly medical experts.
In other words, when companies flirt with the idea of tapping into the health habits of their users and embedding the data into its business model, they enter uncharted territory. Boilerplate privacy policies are compulsory for companies to protect themselves from consumer data complaints, but they fall short when it comes to matters of physical wellbeing as opposed to simple musical tastes.
"Vaccine Songs" doesn't look like a playlist that spits out harmless insights about how a listener prefers hip-hop or country music—it has the feel of one that translates that person's eagerness to be vaccinated into actionable data for advertisers. The playlist is essentially a wolf in sheep's clothing, a dangerous advertising play disguised as an irreverent group of songs with cheeky wordplay. Each stream of those tracks could offer sensitive listening data that other playlists are not able to yield, leading to a new kind of privacy concern.
It's important to note that Spotify's ad targeting methods are not predatory, at least on the surface. Their playlist data collection practices are typically tailored to innocuous criteria like nostalgia or kitchen raves. However, dabbling in the hypersensitive world of healthcare could make the company vulnerable to dicey agents looking to exploit users' fears of the virus.
According to The Verge, who spoke with Jay Richman, VP and head of global advertising business and platform at Spotify, the company takes such concerns seriously. Since Spotify is headquartered in Stockholm, it is subject to more stringent privacy regulations like GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). Richman also noted that users are able to opt out of data targeting.