In October 2020, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has granted a patent to Spotify, a global music streaming platform, for ‘methods and systems for personalizing user experience based on personality traits’. Spotify had filed the patent application in November 2018.
This development has added to the series of patents that Spotify has bagged recently including patents for voice assistant that can read emotions and karaoke feature for users. This time, the music streaming platform has patented a system for providing personalized experience to its users based on their personality traits such as listening habits, music taste, openness to exploring music etc. In other words, Spotify’s patent is based on capturing the behavioural traits of users and providing them more accurate and personalized content based on these traits. Spotify’s patented method aims to provide custom built content by tagging it with human moods and then using the tags to deliver user-specific music.
Now, while the Spotify’s patented method does seem impressive, a few key aspects require consideration.
The first and most obvious aspect is user privacy, being the elephant in the room. Having custom built content on one’s digital plate may come at the cost of a slight compromise in privacy. While it may be argued that delivery of personalized content is already being practiced all around us, Spotify’s patented method seems to go a step ahead by not just personalizing music but also advertisements, based on the personality traits of its listeners. For example, high-pitched or upbeat advertisements may be presented to extrovert listeners and quiet or soft-toned advertisements to introvert listeners. This evidently brings on board the risk of sharing personal data of users such as listening choices to third party advertisers and this is where the whole concept of “content personalization” may start to lose its appeal.
Another aspect is the higher degree of responsibility vested in media streaming platforms such as Spotify especially when concepts like ‘podcasts’ are beginning to gain momentum. Podcasts can serve as an effective medium to convey messages or influence listeners. Needless to say, manipulation of content in such cases invites a greater standard of awareness, ethics and accountability.
From a legal perspective, the moot point here is undoubtedly the aspect of ‘novelty’, given that a majority of the e-platforms today are already delivering personalized content to their users. Moreover, personalization of content has become the backbone of such e-platforms and any new player is also likely to make use of content personalization. Of course, the product and the method of personalization may differ, however, it will be interesting to see how inventions which promise personalized content are perceived.
On a parting note, while Spotify’s patent rests on ensuring tailor-made content, a holistic approach will unearth different shades of such a technology, which may need to be addressed over a period of time.
Shashank Sardesai, Legal Practitioner (India) here :firstname.lastname@example.org