How Spotify aims to be a ‘platform for creative exchange between fans and creators’

How Spotify aims to be a ‘platform for creative exchange between fans and creators’
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Updated 17 June 2022

How Spotify aims to be a ‘platform for creative exchange between fans and creators’

How Spotify aims to be a ‘platform for creative exchange between fans and creators’
  • Claudius Boller, managing director for Spotify MENA, discusses the new features the platform is rolling out to better connect fans with artists

DUBAI: “As we settle into the post-pandemic era, we see clear indicators that audio, in all its forms, has become a platform for self-expression for both artists and creators,” Claudius Boller, the managing director for Spotify in the Middle East and Africa, told Arab News.

“Socializing through music will continue to see an uptick in demand,” he added, especially for younger audiences who crave connection, even more so in the aftermath of the pandemic.

One illustration of this is the popularity of Lyrics, a feature added to the Spotify app last year in partnership with lyrics provider Musixmatch. It inspired many users, especially in Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East and North Africa region, to create memes and other posts that used song lyrics to express their thoughts and feelings, and share them on social media.

It is not something the company expected to happen but it was pleasantly surprised by it. Social media engagement in the Arab region is very high but, more importantly, young audiences are finding increasingly creative ways to explore digital platforms, Boller said.

“So we feel like we need to give certain tools (to them) and then just see what they do with it,” he added.

Spotify has, therefore, introduced a host of new features “that demonstrate our current focus on being a platform for creative exchange between fans and creators,” Boller said.

The first is a foray into the metaverse. With Spotify Island, it is the first music-streaming service to have a presence on Roblox, the gaming platform and game-creation system.

 

 

“The interactive world of Spotify Island on Roblox will serve as a meeting place for fans and artists to play, explore and connect — all with the goal of bringing artists and fans from all over the world closer together,” said Boller.

Users can explore the island completing quests, discovering music and buying merchandise.

“We’re creating an easy opportunity for artists to connect with fans and to partner with Spotify on the creation of in-game virtual merchandise,” he said. “This is just the beginning.”

The platform plans to continue to enhance the Spotify Island experience through the addition of new features and partnerships. For example, it has already launched K-Park, a section of the island dedicated to the K-pop genre.

In K-Park, fans have the opportunity to interact with Korean music superstars such as Stray Kids and Sunmi, for example by taking part in meet and greets with the artists’ avatars, buying virtual merchandise, and having the opportunity to get a hold of virtual signed memorabilia.

Boller explained that Spotify chose K-pop as its first genre to focus on “for many reasons, including its widespread global appeal, dedicated fan following, and unique set of cultural elements that reach far beyond music.”

In the MENA region, there was a 138 percent year-on-year increase in K-pop consumption between 2019 and 2021. In Saudi Arabia, the increase was 98 percent.

 

 

Spotify does not currently have any plans to launch a Middle Eastern hub on Spotify Island but it is in conversation with several artists from the region.

“We’re looking more into genres and fandoms versus regions at this stage but this is just the beginning; we’re really just laying the groundwork for a lot of opportunities,” Boller said.

Other new Spotify developments in the past few months included an expansion of its Blend feature in the form of the launch of Group Blend and Celebrity Blend. The original Blend feature allowed two users to match their music tastes and create a shared playlist. Group Blend allows up to 10 people match with each other, while Celebrity Blend gives users a chance to match with public figures.

“Spotify’s Blend feature combines the best personalization capabilities and collaborative playlist functionality into a single shared playlist,” said Boller.

It also generates “share cards” that reveal the extent to which users’ tastes match, and these can be shared on social media in keeping with Spotify’s efforts to enable and encourage socializing through music.

The feature also offers a potential revenue stream for the company. On Star Wars Day, May 4, for example, Spotify partnered with the sci-fi franchise to give users the chance to use the Blend feature to match with famous characters such as Yoda, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Princess Leia, and create a shared playlist.

 

 

The platform is now open to the idea of exploring similar partnerships with regional film franchises and TV shows.

Most recently, Spotify launched Clips, which allows listeners to watch exclusive messages and stories from artists posted in the form of videos — the equivalent of Instagram Stories on a Spotify playlist.

“With Spotify Clips, artists can share intimate moments with their fans and further bring their art to life, express their vision and their story to their fans, ultimately helping artists connect with their fans in a deeper, more meaningful way,” said Boller.

Clips was launched as part of a campaign dedicated to spotlighting the hip-hop scene in Egypt, during which Spotify rebranded its leading Egyptian rap playlist, Melouk El Scene. Listeners can now watch exclusive video messages from artists such as Dareen, Abo El-Anwar, Perrie, Afroto and Marwan Moussa.

Spotify said that “socialization and interactivity through music” lie at the heart of its efforts and this is of particular importance in the Middle East. Saudis, for example, “are up to speed with both local and international trends,” said Boller. They have diverse tastes in music, listening to a range of genres from local folk music, such as Sheilat, to trending global hits, he added.

“We keep a close eye on how Saudis engage with our platform through our machine learning but also through our music team, who keep their fingers on the pulse of culture,” said Boller. “Taking (what we learn) we ensure that every initiative or campaign we run connects with our target audience in Saudi Arabia.”


Google plays smart with plan to stop answering ‘silly questions’

A Google sign is pictured outside the Google office in Berlin, Germany, August 31, 2021. (REUTERS)
A Google sign is pictured outside the Google office in Berlin, Germany, August 31, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 12 August 2022

Google plays smart with plan to stop answering ‘silly questions’

A Google sign is pictured outside the Google office in Berlin, Germany, August 31, 2021. (REUTERS)
  • Tech giant's revamped featured snippets service aims to provide more accurate answers to users

LONDON: In a move designed to improve its search engine’s “featured snippets” service, Google announced on Thursday that it will stop answering users’ “silly questions.”

A user who asks Google, “When did Snoopy assassinate Abraham Lincoln?” for example, would receive a fairly detailed response, explaining the location, date and time of assassination, the target and even the type of attack.

However, while the information provided is correct, quite obviously the question makes no sense.

“This clearly isn’t the most helpful way to display this result,” Google’s head of search, Pandu Nayak, said in a statement.

“We’ve trained our systems to get better at detecting these sorts of false premises, which are not very common, but there are cases where it’s not helpful to show a featured snippet. We’ve reduced the triggering of featured snippets in these cases by 40 percent with this update,” he added.

The upgrade aims to address a problem that has long posed problems for Google.

In 2017, the tech giant came under fire for allegedly disseminating fake news after a highlighted snippet for the question “Is Obama planning a coup?” led to its voice assistant jokingly telling users: “Obama may, in fact, be preparing a communist coup d’etat at the end of his term in 2016.”

The snippet, which was automatically generated, was taken from a conspiracy theory website.

To avoid this kind of situation, Google’s search engine revamp is intended to improve replies’ accuracy and sidestep queries for which there is no clear-cut right or wrong response.

Google will also introduce an “about this result” option and alert users in case of low-quality data.

“This doesn’t mean that no helpful information is available, or that a particular result is low-quality,” Nayak said. “These notices provide context about the whole set of results on the page, and you can always see the results for your query, even when the advisory is present.”

So, next time you ask Google: “How do you get in touch with the Illuminati?” expect something more helpful than, “Want to get rich? Apply today and join the Illuminati!”


Meta tracks users across websites, research reveals

Meta tracks users across websites, research reveals
Updated 12 August 2022

Meta tracks users across websites, research reveals

Meta tracks users across websites, research reveals
  • Although there is no indication the tech giant uses the feature to collect sensitive data, it does not make this information known to users

LONDON: Meta is accused of altering website codes its users view, enabling the tech giant to follow them throughout the web after they click links in its apps, new research revealed on Thursday.

Felix Krause, a former Google employee who conducted the research, said that Meta exploits the “in-app browser” — a feature that allows Facebook and Instagram users to visit a third-party website without leaving the platform — to “inject” the tracking code.

“The iOS Instagram and Facebook app render all third-party links and ads within their app using a custom in-app browser. This causes various risks for the user, with the host app being able to track every single interaction with external websites, from all form inputs like passwords and addresses to every single tap,” Krause said.

“Injecting custom scripts into third-party websites allows them to monitor all user interactions, like every button & link tapped, text selections, screenshots, as well as any form inputs, like passwords, addresses and credit card numbers,” he added.

This practice of adding extra code to a webpage before it is displayed to a user is called “Javascript injection,” and in most cases is considered a type of malicious attack, Krause said.

His investigation concentrated on Facebook and Instagram for iOS, after he discovered the code injection by chance while developing a tool that could list all the extra commands added to a website by the browser.

Starting with iOS 14.5, Apple introduced App Monitoring Transparency, which enables users to choose whether or not to enable app tracking when they first open an app. The feature, according to Meta, could impact the company’s revenue by more than $10 billion.

Meta said that the injected tracking code respected users' preferences on ATT.

“The code allows us to aggregate user data before using it for targeted advertising or measurement purposes,” a spokesperson said.

“We do not add any pixels. Code is injected so that we can aggregate conversion events from pixels. For purchases made through the in-app browser, we seek user consent to save payment information for the purposes of autofill.”

Although there is no indication that Meta employed Javascript injection to gather sensitive data, the company does not make this information known to users. 

Krause also said that WhatsApp’s in-app browser does not have the code. As a result, he advised that Meta should do the same with Facebook and Instagram, or redirect users to another browser to open links.

“It’s what’s best for the user, and the right thing to do,” he said.


Russian journalist who staged anti-war protest placed under house arrest

Russian journalist who staged anti-war protest placed under house arrest
Updated 12 August 2022

Russian journalist who staged anti-war protest placed under house arrest

Russian journalist who staged anti-war protest placed under house arrest
  • Marina Ovsyannikova faces decade in prison if convicted over Kremlin demonstration
  • TV figure said last week that her fate was ‘unenviable,’ but would keep speaking out

LONDON: Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova, who staged a protest against the invasion of Ukraine on live TV in March, was placed under house arrest on Thursday after being charged with spreading false information.

However, her detention is related to a different incident that took place last month when the former Channel One journalist demonstrated alone near the Kremlin holding a placard which criticized the war and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ovsyannikova was detained on Wednesday after police raided her Moscow home. 

The journalist spent the night in pre-trial detention before appearing on Thursday in court, where she was charged with disseminating false information about Russian military forces. The court ordered Ovsyannikova to be placed under house arrest until Oct. 9, pending her trial.

“They scared my little daughter,” the 44-year-old said in a Telegram post. Ovsyannikova added that 10 officers from the Investigative Committee raided her house at 6 a.m. in the morning while she and her daughter were asleep.

“Over 350 children who died in Ukraine, are they fakes … How many children have to die before you stop?” She added.

Ovsyannikova could face 10 years in prison if convicted of the charges.

Her lawyer, Dmitry Zakhvatov, said on Wednesday that “a criminal case has been filed” and added that they were awaiting the decision of investigators on the journalist’s pre-trial measures.

During the court hearing, Ovsyannikova continued her protest, holding a sign that read “Let the dead children haunt you in your dreams.”

Notably, it is the second time that Ovsyannikova has been detained in relation to the charges. In July, Russian police detained and later released the journalist, charging her with “discrediting the actions of the army of Russia.” 

Due to rigid laws introduced by the government since the beginning of the war, the journalist’s actions expose her to criminal prosecution for “publishing false information” and “denigrating the army,” which can carry heavy prison sentences under Russian law.

In March, Ovsyannikova became famous worldwide for interrupting the set of Russia’s Channel One news program while holding a poster that said in Russian: “Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you.”

The stunt cost her a brief detention and a fine, prompting Russian opposition circles to question the validity of her actions.

“I was skeptical about what Channel One editor Marina Ovsyannikova had done — and it turns out I was wrong,” said anti-Kremlin satirist and radio host Viktor Shenderovich. “Today Marina pays a serious price for this, and deserves both respect and support.”

In the months following her protest, Ovsyannikova spent time abroad, including a brief period working for German newspaper Die Welt.

In early July, Ovsyannikova announced that she was returning to Russia to settle a dispute over the custody of her children.


Australian court orders Google to pay $43 mln for misleading users

Australian court orders Google to pay $43 mln for misleading users
Updated 12 August 2022

Australian court orders Google to pay $43 mln for misleading users

Australian court orders Google to pay $43 mln for misleading users
  • The court found Google misled some customers about personal location data collected through their Android mobile devices between January 2017 and December 2018

LONDON: Australia's competition watchdog said on Friday that Alphabet Inc's Google unit was ordered by the country's Federal Court to pay A$60 million ($42.7 million) in penalties for misleading users on collection of their personal location data.

The court found Google misled some customers about personal location data collected through their Android mobile devices between January 2017 and December 2018.

Google misled users into believing “location history” setting on their android phones was the only way location data could be collected by it, when a feature to monitor web and applications activity also allowed local data collection and storage, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) said.

The watchdog, which estimates that 1.3 million Google account users in Australia may have been affected, had started the proceedings against the company and its local unit in October 2019.

Google took remedial measures in 2018, the regulator said.

In an emailed statement, Google said it had settled the matter and added it has made location information simple to manage and easy to understand.

The search engine giant has been embroiled in legal action in Australia over the past year as the government mulled and passed a law to make Google and Meta Platforms' Facebook pay media companies for content on their platforms.


Twitter plan to fight midterm misinformation falls short, voting rights experts say

Twitter plan to fight midterm misinformation falls short, voting rights experts say
Updated 12 August 2022

Twitter plan to fight midterm misinformation falls short, voting rights experts say

Twitter plan to fight midterm misinformation falls short, voting rights experts say

LONDON: Twitter Inc. on Thursday set out a plan to combat the spread of election misinformation that revives previous strategies, but civil and voting rights experts said it would fall short of what is needed to prepare for the upcoming US midterm elections.
The social media company said it will apply its civic integrity policy, introduced in 2018, to the Nov. 8 midterms, when numerous US Senate and House of Representatives seats will be up for election. The policy relies on labeling or removing posts with misleading content, focused on messages intended to stop voting or claims intended to undermine public confidence in an election.
In a statement, Twitter said it has taken numerous steps in recent months to “elevate reliable resources” about primaries and voting processes. Applying a label to a tweet also means the content is not recommended or distributed to more users.
The San Francisco-based company is currently in a legal battle with billionaire Elon Musk over his attempt to walk away from his $44-billion deal to acquire Twitter.
Musk has called himself a “free speech absolutist,” and has said Twitter posts should only be removed if there is illegal content, a view supported by many in the tech industry.
But civil rights and online misinformation experts have long accused social media and tech platforms of not doing enough to prevent the spread of false content, including the idea that President Joe Biden did not win the 2020 election.
They warn that misinformation could be an even greater challenge this year, as candidates who question the 2020 election are running for office, and divisive rhetoric is spreading following an FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida home earlier this week.
“We’re seeing the same patterns playing out,” said Evan Feeney, deputy senior campaign director at Color of Change, which advocates for the rights of Black Americans.
In the blog post, Twitter said a test of redesigned labels saw a decline in users’ retweeting, liking and replying to misleading content.
Researchers say Twitter and other platforms have a spotty record in consistently labeling such content.
In a paper published last month, Stanford University researchers examined a sample of posts on Twitter and Meta Platforms’ Facebook that altogether contained 78 misleading claims about the 2020 election. They found that Twitter and Facebook both consistently applied labels to only about 70 percent of the claims.
In a statement, Twitter said it has taken numerous steps in recent months to “elevate reliable resources” about primaries and voting processes.
Twitter’s efforts to fight misinformation during the midterms will include information prompts to debunk falsehoods before they spread widely online.
More emphasis should be placed on removing false and misleading posts, said Yosef Getachew, media and democracy program director at nonpartisan group Common Cause.
“Pointing them to other sources isn’t enough,” he said.
Experts also questioned Twitter’s practice of leaving up some tweets from world leaders in the name of public interest.
“Twitter has a responsibility and ability to stop misinformation at the source,” Feeney said, saying that world leaders and politicians should face a higher standard for what they tweet.
Twitter leads the industry in releasing data on how its efforts to intervene against misinformation are working, said Evelyn Douek, an assistant professor at Stanford Law School who studies online speech regulation.
Yet more than a year after soliciting public input on what the company should do when a world leader violates its rules, Twitter has not provided an update, she said.