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Photo illustration: Lorenzo Di Cola/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Digital civil rights group Access Now is sending a letter to Spotify CEO Daniel Ek imploring the company to abandon a technology it has patented to detect emotion, gender and age using speech recognition, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: While many of us in theory want our computers to understand who we are and what we want, the industry too often doesn't think through how its innovations will affect different kinds of people or what harm its collection of data can cause.

In its letter, Access Now says technology that aims to determine a person's mood and demographics based on their speech could be used to manipulate human emotion and is likely to lead to discrimination."This technology is dangerous, a violation of privacy and other human rights, and should be abandoned," Access Now says in its letter to Spotify, which was obtained by Axios.

Between the lines: Access Now highlights four areas of particular concern.

  1. Emotion manipulation: "Serious doubts have been raised about the scientific basis of emotion recognition technology and whether it works. While the majority of criticism has focused on inferring emotion using facial recognition systems, many of these criticisms apply equally to speech-based approaches."
  2. Gender discrimination: "You cannot infer gender without discriminating against trans and non-binary people. If you infer gender, according to a male-female binary from voice data, you will likely misgender trans people, and place non-binary people into a gender binary that undermines their identity."
  3. Privacy violations: "Based on reporting, the device would always be on, which means that it would be constantly monitoring, processing voice data, and likely ingesting sensitive information. ... No one wants a machine listening in on their most intimate conversations."
  4. Data security: "Harvesting this kind of data could make Spotify a target for third parties seeking information, from snooping government authorities to malicious hackers."

Our thought bubble: Information we give to companies for reasons of convenience becomes tough to claw back when they start to use it in ways that make us unhappy.

  • "Mood detection" and "emotional state" are particularly fuzzy categories fraught with both ethical and practical pitfalls.

Of note: Just because Spotify has received a patent doesn't mean the company intends to build or deploy the feature.

Read the full letter.

Go deeper

White House nominates Rick Spinrad as NOAA leader

In this NOAA GOES-East satellite handout image, Hurricane Dorian, a Cat. 4 storm, moves slowly past Grand Bahama Island on September 2, 2019. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)

The White House on Thursday evening nominated Rick Spinrad, an oceanographer at Oregon State University, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Why it matters: Filling the NOAA slot would complete the Biden administration's leadership on the climate and environment team. The agency, located within the Commerce Department, houses the National Weather Service and conducts much of the nation's climate science research.

2 hours ago - World

Israeli officials will object to restoration of Iran deal in D.C. visit

Photo: Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed the delegation traveling to Washington, D.C. next week for strategic talks on Iran to stress their objection to a U.S. return to the 2015 nuclear deal and to refuse to discuss its contents, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: That position is similar to the one Israel took in the year before the 2015 nuclear deal was announced, which led to a rift between the Israeli government and the Obama administration. History could now repeat itself.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases aren't budging — even after vaccinations doubled— Health care workers feel stress, burnout more than a year into the pandemic — Handful of "breakthrough" COVID cases occurred in nursing homes, CDC says.
  2. Vaccines: Johnson & Johnson's vaccine production problems look even bigger — All U.S. adults now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine.
  3. Political: Watchdog says agency infighting increased health and safety risks at start of pandemic.
  4. World: EU regulator: Benefits of J&J vaccine outweigh risk of rare blood clots.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.