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Spotify Tries to Put Out a Privacy Fire

CEO Daniel Ek doesn't want to see your photos. Unless you want to share them, he says.

Michael Loccisano / Getty Images for Spotify
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

No, Spotify doesn’t want to root around your phone’s address book, or your photos.

That’s the message the music service is sending out today — after clumsily suggesting otherwise earlier this week.

“We should have done a better job in communicating what these policies mean and how any information you choose to share will — and will not — be used,” the company says in a post attributed to CEO Daniel Ek. “We understand people’s concerns about their personal information and are 100 percent committed to protecting our users’ privacy and ensuring that you have control over the information you share.”

Ek’s post — titled “Sorry!” — is a reaction to a reaction to new privacy terms Spotify began rolling out this week in different countries around the world. The terms vary a bit depending on the territory, but you can get a good sense of them here. The problem, for some folks: “We may ask for customer permission to collect information from new sources, such as address book, location, and sensor data from the mobile device to improve the customer experience and inform product decisions.”

If you’re blasé about security and privacy on the Internet — that is, you don’t think you have much of it, no matter what you’re doing — this won’t really upset you. Especially if you scan down to the end, where Spotify stresses that it “will always ask for individual permission or clearly inform you of the ability to opt out from sharing location, photos, voice and contacts.”

On the other hand, you might feel genuinely creeped out about the notion that Ek wants to see your photos. Or you might want something to write about besides Ashley Madison this week. Or you might just want to get into a Twitter war with Ek, as Minecraft creator and fellow Swede tech tycoon Markus “Notch” Persson did this morning:

I wouldn’t normally tell you to spend time reading a Twitter exchange, but this one’s kind of interesting: Ek tries explaining that Spotify only wants to see certain data for certain features — for instance, if you want to put one of your photos on a playlist you’ve made — and that users have the ability to say no. Persson argues that Spotify is assuming that users will give the company unlimited leeway — which they don’t.

And yes, Ek and his team could have done a better job of explaining this from the get-go. But give them credit for trying to fix it now, before it gets any worse. And in any case, it’s hard to imagine any of this will end up registering with Spotify’s user base of 75 million people.

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