Are you a fan of Bergenulo Five? How about DJ Bruej? Do the smooth sounds of Bratte Night tickle your fancy? Will you be spending your weekend curled up with a warm blanket and the latest album by Cappisko? If you answered no to any of these questions, you might want to double check Spotify to make sure.
The BBC has a fascinating look at a phenomenon it calls “Mysterycore.” According to their reporting, many Spotify users have noticed that their listening history (as reflected in the streaming service’s year-in-review widget, or on a website like Last.fm that logs it for you) contains extensive plays by the above names and others, with names like Hundra Ao, Onxyia, and Funkena, which the users themselves never actually played. These “artists” generally have no internet presence to speak of outside of Spotify itself, and albums filled with lots of short instrumental tracks, with generic-looking artwork.
— Lina vai no RIR (@robotsuicidal) December 6, 2018
By all appearances, this is some sort of scam, involving compromised Spotify accounts and music intended only to generate streams. (Interestingly enough, an earlier report from Brooklyn Vegan involved similar-sounding activity, but with seemingly inflated stats for an artist that appears to be “real”: a hip-hop group called Cannabis Club ATL.) Spotify itself tacitly acknowledged that something was amiss, removing the artists cataloged in the BBC piece from its library and issuing a statement, which reads in part: “We take the artificial manipulation of streaming activity on our service extremely seriously…These artists were removed because we detected abnormal streaming activity in relation to their content.”
It’s unclear how the accounts were accessed. A BBC source speculated that it may have to do with “electronic access tokens,” the technology that allows you to link your Spotify to your Facebook account. Facebook announced an access token-related breach last fall, but Spotify denied to the BBC that the manipulated play counts were related.
Spotify did not acknowledge whether it actually made payments to the apparently fraudulent artists, which was presumably the point of the scam. If they were getting paid, it may not have been much. According to the BBC, the Bergenulo Five profile had about 60,000 streams in total before it was pulled down, which seems like a lot, until you remember that Spotify pays out an average of less than one cent per stream. Seems like a lot of work for a few hundred bucks.