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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

Hope King, author of Closer
Updated 43 mins ago - Economy & Business

Peloton pumps its brakes

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Peloton’s popularity is falling as swiftly as it shot up.

Why it matters: Not all pandemic habits stick around. Peloton's trajectory over the past two years exemplifies how challenging it's been for companies to gauge shifts in consumer demand — particularly in sectors heavily altered by the pandemic.

Mitch McConnell's remarks on Black voters raise ire

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during a Capitol Hill news conference earlier this year. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been widely criticized for comments he made this week about Black American voters.

Driving the news: When asked by a reporter Wednesday about concerns among voters of color, McConnell said "the concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, Black American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans."

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Trump’s friends worry legal pick for N.Y. case lacks experience

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Close associates and advisers to Donald Trump tell Axios they're concerned by his decision to use a relatively inexperienced New Jersey attorney, Alina Habba, in his high-stakes legal fight against New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Why it matters: A former president typically has access to the country's most prestigious experts, including lawyers. Trump has turned to the former general counsel for a parking garage company, who works from a small law office near his Bedminster, N.J., country club.