'Music is being used as a weapon': Spotify users and artists react to CEO's €100 million investment in AI defence tech

  • Published
    Mon, 29 Nov 2021, 11:00
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    Anu Shukla
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  • Daniel Ek announced the deal with Helsing earlier this month.
  • 'Music is being used as a weapon': Spotify users and artists react to CEO's €100 million investment in AI defence tech image
  • Spotify users and artists have responded to CEO Daniel Ek's €100 million investment in AI defence tech company Helsing. On November 9th, Ek announced the investment into the British-German company, whose technology will initially be sold to the French, British and German militaries. As part of the deal, Ek is also joining Helsing's board. Helsing says it will use "world-leading AI technology for defence and national security" to provide "information advantage for democratic governments" and "keep liberal democracies from harm." The €100-million deal, which arrives via Ek's €1 billion Prima Materia investment company, has angered some Spotify users, who responded to Ek's tweet by closing accounts and jumping ship to competitors like Bandcamp and Tidal. Some supported the hashtag campaign to #BoycottSpotify. Ambient dub fusion music producer Darren Sangita was among them.
    "AI means using computers to process information a hundred times faster so they accurately deliver a higher kill ratio," Sangita told Resident Advisor. "Music is being used as a weapon. I can't sign up to that, so I've already unsubscribed and now plan to take all my music down from Spotify [...] We believe in music as a powerful tool for peace, otherwise it's a complete contradiction of our music philosophy." According to software data company Pitchbrook, Helsing will "develop software comprising artificial intelligence to integrate data from infrared, video, sonar and radio frequencies, gleaned from sensors on military vehicles, to create a real-time picture of battlefields, enabling clients to execute faster and more reliable decisions." Independent cyber security expert and content delivery advisor Maurizio Monti told RA what this means. "They're saying they will consolidate a huge amount of information, process it a billion times faster, then apply it to information captured by tanks, drones and satellites to reach battlefield conclusions in seconds instead of weeks," he said. Users like Sangita have long been comparing alternatives to Spotify and have been prompted to pay subscriptions to platforms like Tidal while using third-party service providers like Tune My Music and Soundiiz to transfer playlists to other platforms. "This shows that money will start filtering towards Spotify's competitors," Sangita added. "I want to see them lose €100 million because they need to see consumer choice is powerful and dangerous to their business model." RA checked the Twitter response to Ek's post and found some 80 percent of its respondents weren't happy with the decision, while 95 percent of retweets about the news were also negative. Another critic was Australian vaporware producer b l u e s c r e e n. "War is hell," he told RA. "There's nothing ethical about it, no matter how you spin it. I also left because it became apparent very quickly that Spotify's CEO, as all billionaires, only got rich off the exploitation of others. As an artist I cannot morally agree with inadequate payments of royalties to those whose entire livelihood is the reason for Daniel Ek's success." He added: "I will continue to support and use Bandcamp as the only platform that has constantly given better rates and community support." UK-based Spotify user Scott Darby also left the platform in response to Ek's announcement. "Long time @Spotify subscriber from 2007 here, cancelled my subscription today because of this," he tweeted. But one techno label executive, who chose to remain anonymous, told RA that Spotify's huge share in the streaming market makes "a lot of labels reluctant to start pulling content," which protect it "from facing huge repercussions" of any boycott movement. Aryan Ashoori, label manager at London outlet Outtallectuals, said it "would be career suicide" to ditch Spotify as too much blood, sweat and tears has gone into building a following. "I don't agree with what they're doing but it's not a personal decision," Ashoori told RA. "We represent about 150 different artists, and I wouldn't be able to pull the plug on the behalf of so many people either." Palestine's Radio Alhara is only affiliated to Spotify via its resident DJs. "There's no judgement against artists who ditch or stay with the service," cofounder Elias Anastas told RA. "We can't judge artist decisions, we just need to remain critical of the system and do what we can to combat it." Brooklyn-based jazz percussionist, tabla player and composer Sameer Gupta is taking a particularly proactive approach. As well as cancelling his Spotify subscription and taking down most of his music catalogue, he's now encouraging others to do the same by offering a 95-percent discount on his "entire Bandcamp" to "anyone else who is cancelling their Spotify."
    "This has been a long time coming anyway but the Spotify CEO's desire to invest in war AI tech was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back," Gupta told RA. Gupta said he had eight to ten albums on Spotify, but said he "can't pull everything off Spotify because in the spirit of collaboration, it's not entirely my choice to do so in every case." He added: "It's important we don't let the power of music be co-opted by the corporate agenda. We as lovers and creators of music have the power to steer the industry in a direction we want." Daniel Ek has not yet responded to a request for comment to this story. Correction, November 29th: The original version of this article referred to the Australian vaporwave artist as Blue Screen. The preferred spelling is b l u e s c r e e n.