It’s a social trend that grows every year and makes inroads into noise, fueled by pride or self-deprecating humor, depending on who turned out to be your top performers. And it’s all based on user data, which Spotify packs in cool neon color with cheeky commentary, a move that takes the worry out of knowing Spotify is always listening. And in exchange for entertaining its users for the day, Spotify gets its annual chance to lead a social media trend and reap the benefits of free advertising as millions of people publicly share their Wrapped.
As more and more companies come under fire for user tracking and data storage, Spotify largely manages to avoid such widespread criticism. Instead, many anticipate and welcome the arrival of Wrapped. But it’s also a well-packaged manifestation of the music streamer’s ability to capture every second people spend listening from January through October.
“This is a particularly brilliant example that Spotify’s business model is built on surveillance,” says Evan Greer, director of digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future. “Spotify has done an amazing job of marketing surveillance as fun and getting people to not only participate in their surveillance, but celebrate, share, and brag about it to the world.”
Spotify released its first year-in-review version in 2015. But it didn’t catch on until a few holiday seasons later, once the app started serving it up on pastel-colored cards. It amplified its interactive insights, further personalizing the experience. In 2021, Spotify Wrapped was shared 60 million times by users. But that statistic doesn’t take screenshots, a common way people post their results on social media.
For 2022, Wrapped has evolved to place each user into one of 16 listening personalities based on the music they’ve streamed and other categories, like how early they discovered something or the music age they gravitate towards. Spotify has also integrated Wrapped with WhatsApp and Roblox to further spread its reach. “Wrapped is one of the most exciting times for Spotify users every year,” Spotify spokeswoman Laura Batey said in an email. “We’ve built something special that our audience anticipates and looks forward to.”
What makes Spotify so good at creating these lists and predicting the music users want to listen to is a robust AI system and its immense data archive. It also mined that data for oddly personal purposes Ads, taking into account users’ individual listening habits and anonymizing them before posting them on billboards. “Dear Person Who Played ‘Sorry’ 42 Times on Valentine’s Day, What Did You Do?” an old advertisement read.
And as the world’s dominant music streamer, Spotify controls slightly less than one third of the market. But if you’re on Twitter or Instagram when Spotify Wrapped drops, you’d think it’s gotten even more of a stranglehold on listeners. Its grip on music lovers seemed even tighter when both YouTube and Apple launched their own Wrapped-like features:Recap And Replayrespectively, on Tuesday, only to be upstaged by Spotify Wrapped the following day.
Bryan Barletta of Sounds Profitable, an outlet that covers the podcasting business, says he ditched Spotify for Apple Music, so his data was delivered in Recap this year. But it felt like a copy of Wrapped, which has cornered the market as an annual highlight. “People like being able to show who they are through what they experience,” says Barletta. “I think this will remain until Spotify is no longer a thing.”
The music we listen to may not seem like an intimate, personal data. But a graph showing that someone played “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” 120 times could indicate that the user has a child. Too many sad songs can suggest that a listener is really going through it. And it’s fascinating to know that you were in the top 0.1 percent of Taylor Swift listeners (a major achievement among Swiftie fans), but it’s a little tiring scrolling through Instagram story after Instagram story featuring someone you don’t see. since college listened to the same Doja Cat song 150 times.
Plus, all of this is valuable to advertisers. It’s not just demographic data, but information that embraces users’ moods, tastes and habits. People can protect your data somehow turning on private listening mode and tweaking their settings to return personalized ads, but privacy experts have asked Spotify to do more.
Batey says the company uses safeguards such as “pseudonymization, encryption, access, and retention policies to protect against unauthorized access and unnecessary retention of personal data in our systems.” Spotify does not sell user data to third parties, but tends to keep it for the duration of the existence of an account. Anyone who listens to at least five artists and 30 songs for at least 30 seconds gets a Wrapped. “We are committed to protecting our users’ personal data,” says Batey.
Based on the popularity of Wrapped, many people may not want to give it up. Days before the release of Wrapped, another graphic by Instagram began flooding social media. It’s an app that integrates with Spotify to let people create festival-style posters of their top artists. As with Wrapped, people took the opportunity to showcase their taste in music.
“It’s kind of ironic that at the end of every year people celebrate that Spotify is spying on them,” says Greer. “I think it’s especially insidious, because the music is so personal and emotional. The music we listen to is part of who we are.”