Back in 2017, a rather famous person said:

We’ve lost the internet, it’s all about damage control now.”

Peter Sunde

He’s the same person who came to your aid when you realized that your pockets were too light for buying an album which you had already listened to several times on Spotify, or when Netflix removed that one movie you were planning to watch on the weekend, or that one game on Steam that’s no longer available but is being traded on the marketplace for a thousand dollars.

A lot of privacy conscious folks start by quoting Snowden or forming rebuttals to “I don’t have anything to hide.” However, today I’d like to start by quoting ThePirateBay’s co-founder and how the website’s mere existence (and overwhelming popularity) taps on inherent issues with the current digital distribution.

Though I take the example of Spotify below with a focus on music, similar situations are prominent across movies, television, games and books. At the time of writing, there are 20+ streaming services for watching films. The list is exclusive of several other video-on-demand services.

These services employ something known as DRM which is proprietary (copyright) software that imposes restrictions on how a person can use their purchased digital content.

We do not own the content we consume.

Have you tried downloading music on Spotify? Sure, that works. Have you tried listening to those songs offline? Hey, that works too. Have you tried to listen to them outside of Spotify? That’s where the vendor lock-in comes in.

You’re not paying Spotify to own music, you’re paying them to rent music to you. You’re subscribing to a service. What happens at the end of that subscription? Your library of a thousand playlists and a few thousand albums is virtually zero. That’s not to say it’s completely gone. It exists, sure, as long as your account does; but behind a paywall, an ad that plays after every shuffle and music quality that is halved.

Not everything is available on a single platform.

A month or so ago, a large catalogue of Spotify’s library which was previously unavailable was added to my country’s selection. Curious, I made a dummy Indian Spotify account and cross-checked a few playlists from a friend’s UK account. A substantial amount of content was still missing. Ironically more-so, a lot of old Indian songs were missing!

For somebody in India to stream music, they have to sign up on Spotify (to get the status thing rolling) and something like Wynk (uninstalled every morning to keep the status thing rolling) to get access to a reasonably large catalogue to choose from.

Privacy is Not Opt-In

When a person signs up for an account, there’s a little checkbox that has be ticked or an agreement that has to be read in order to complete making that account. Too often it’s ignored and the consequence for that ignorance is paid with data. The data is then shared with trusted third parties which have privacy policies and trusted third parties of their own.

An endless chain is formed and data becomes a currency for control.

Spotify itself shares your personal data with more than one third party. It is possible to change the amount of data shared but it’s impossible to make it zero. Methods that allow for such measures are strictly opt-out. You have to accept the terms first to deny them later, and the options to deny are cleverly positioned in hide in plain sight.

A world that seems to be moving towards a subscription based model where everything is provided as a service is a world where you own nothing. A world where everything feels permanent until it is not. Would it be unfair to blame a system that enables coporations to play a twisted game or are users to be blamed for ignoring it? How does one fight back? Where is the opt-out button?

From one of my favourite reviews of Election 2 (2006), dir. Johnnie To:

there isn’t a power structure that’s been invented, legitimate or other, that wouldn’t feed you to the dogs to keep itself going.

Matt Lynch