Please Don’t Give Your Genetic Data to AncestryDNA as Part of Their Spotify Playlist Partnership
Ancestry, the world’s largest for-profit genealogy company, has announced a new partnership with Spotify to create playlists based on your DNA. Using test results from the company’s $99 AncestryDNA program, the partnership combines Spotify’s personalized recommendations with Ancestry’s patented DNA home kit data to give users recommendations based on both their Spotify habits and their ancestral place of origin.
“It’s so much more than the stats and the data and the records,” Ancestry’s Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Vineet Mehra told Quartz. “How do we help people experience their culture and not just read about it? Music seemed like an obvious way to do that.”
DNA home kits have become all the rage in recent years, helping more than 15 million people identify their ancestors. But as data privacy continues to dominate new cycles, it’s hard not to wonder about the security of the immensely sensitive data collected by companies like Ancestry. A ThinkProgress investigation last year found that buried in their terms of service, Ancestry claims ownership of a “perpetual, royalty-free, worldwide license” that may be used against “you or a genetic relative” as the company and its researchers see fit. Upon agreeing to the company’s terms of service, you and any genetic relatives appearing in the data surrender partial legal rights to the DNA, including any damages that Ancestry may cause unintentionally or purposefully.
At the same time, maybe their mission isn’t all that different from Spotify’s, who’ve spent the last few years preaching the Big Data gospel in their aim to deliver the most highly-personalized experience to users through data collection. As Spotify’s Global Creative Director Rich Frankel put it in his 2016 talk “How Spotify Uses Data to Make Content Smarter and More Social,” “All of this amazing data that we have, this first-party data that we’re able to use, this makes what we do with content so much more exciting.” From metrics on preferences, location, and context to known data-sharing arrangements between some of the world’s biggest software companies, it’s clear that these practices aren’t limited to Ancestry alone, and the partnership could mean some pretty dystopian things for your Spotify account now as well.
Thankfully Ashley Reese over at Jezebel gave it a shot already, receiving a tailor-made playlist of West African pop, U.K. radio bummers, and hit-or-miss grime from the streets of South London. “One major stand out for me was a song called ‘Diaraby Nene’ by Malian singer Oumou Sangaré,” she writes. “I felt this song in the depths of my soul.”
However you feel about data privacy, the Ancestry partnership feels like another big move for Spotify, who have continued to partner with auto manufacturers, telecom behemoths, video providers and more in recent months. Maybe genetic aptitude is the next big thing in music analytics? For now I think I’ll stick with my iPod, but who knows how long that’ll last.
Update: Through a spokesperson, Ancestry says it no longer uses the terms of service reported in the ThinkProgress investigation. Ancestry also provided the following statement:
“Protecting our customers’ privacy is Ancestry’s highest priority. Spotify does not have access to DNA data of any Ancestry customers. Customers can manually input regions, into the playlist generator on Spotify and then a custom playlist is created with songs by artists from the various regions and across a wide variety of musical genres. All information is manually input by customers and the experience is completely optional.”