Apple Music Hits 60 Million Subscribers as Spotify Shows Its Dark Side

Versus Applemusic Spotify Credit: CNET
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Apple Music has just hit another milestone — 60 million subscribers — according to numbers shared with French site Numerama by Apple Senior Vice-President Eddy Cue.

According to Music Business Worldwide, the 60 million number isn’t just paying subscribers — it also includes those currently on a free trial — but since Apple only offers a one-time three-month trial for new users, and not an actual “free” version of Apple Music, it’s safe to say that those likely represent a very small fraction compared to the number of paying users.

Cue also confirmed that Apple’s own Beats 1 radio station is currently boasting “tens of millions” of listeners. Unlike Apple Music, Beats 1 is a free radio station that any iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac, or Apple Watch user can listen to directly from the built-in Music, iTunes, or Radio apps.

While Apple’s numbers still fall short of Spotify — the competing streaming service announced earlier this year that it had reached 100 million paying subscribers — Cue said that he’s very happy with the growth in Apple’s own streaming service, and added that the company is “perfecting” the service across multiple devices, with iOS 13 set to bring karaoke-style time-synced lyrics that have been entered and curated by Apple itself, rather than relying on third-party lyrics services.

‘Pre-Adds’ are the new Pre-Orders

As subscription-based streaming services, both Apple Music and Spotify have recently introduced a feature that allows users to “pre-add” an upcoming album to their library prior to its release. The concept is the same as pre-ordering an album as a digital purchase, which has been available as an option in iTunes for years now, but as a streaming service of course doesn’t require any actual payment; it’s really just a way of having the album automatically show up in a user’s streaming library right away once it’s actually released.

To actively pre-add an album, much like the pre-order we invented with iTunes, means that the fan is excited about the content and wants to be among the first to enjoy is the moment its available. That kind of engagement is very valuable to an artist and to us.

Oliver Schusser, Vice President of Apple Music & International Content

The advantage of pre-adds, of course, is that it generates the same kind of hype as pre-orders, and offers the music industry some metrics on what the demand will be for an album before it even launches. For example, Taylor Swift’s new album, Lover, recently broke the record for the most pre-added album by a female artist ever on Apple Music, with 222,400 pre-adds worldwide since the option first opened on June 13.

Spotify Reveals the Dark Side of Pre-Adds

However, at the same time as Apple Music is announcing this new milestone and lauding the benefit of pre-adds, a new report by Billboard reveals that there could be serious privacy implications for Spotify users who take advantage of this feature.

According to the report, when a Spotify user “pre-saves” an upcoming release, they could be sharing significantly more personal data and access than they realize. In the process of pre-adding an album, Spotify users are required to click through and approve permissions that give music labels an absolutely staggering level of access to their Spotify accounts, allowing them to not only directly track their detailed listening habits, but actually change the artists they follow and potentially even control their music streaming remotely.

The problem here is that, unlike Apple Music, where Apple itself acts as an intermediary between the end users and the labels, Spotify appears to be designed to give the labels direct access to users’ music libraries. In other words, when an Apple Music user pre-adds an album, it will be Apple who is loading that album into the user’s music library. When a Spotify user pre-adds an album, it seems that it’s the music label that’s doing this directly. It’s a very odd arrangement that raises some interesting and potentially alarming questions about how Spotify actually works behind the scenes.

Even in this case, however, technically labels should only need one basic permission: “add and remote items in your Library”, and yet what they’re requesting and getting from Spotify is the ability to do a lot more. The exact permissions seem to vary among campaigns, but even the most conservative ones that Billboard examined wanted unnecessary personal information such as the user’s birthdate. Other pre-add campaigns asked for considerably more, including full control over a user’s private playlists, control of Spotify playback on all of a user’s devices, and even the ability to view and manage followers and update a user’s profile information. In other words, there’s enough here for a label like Sony Music to completely annex your Spotify account for their own purposes.

While there’s nothing technically illegal here — users are prompted to grant these permissions when pre-adding an album, and Spotify’s lawyers would undoubtedly argue that it’s the user’s own fault if they don’t read the fine print — it’s definitely both unexpected and distasteful that labels should be requesting massive amounts of access to personal accounts simply to allow a user to pre-add an upcoming album, and worse yet, as the illustration above shows, the information that a user is consenting to isn’t exactly presented as clearly as it should be.

How Does Apple Handle Pre-Adds?

Although it’s unclear how Apple handles pre-adds in terms of the information it’s giving to the labels, the company’s extremely conservative stance on user privacy, and the fact that it acts as a middle-man between the labels and its subscribers, makes us extremely confident it’s nowhere near the level of information that Spotify is exposing.

In fact, Apple’s privacy policies have frequently been a sticking point with data-hungry media publishers, who routinely complain that the company doesn’t give them enough data about their subscribers. We’ve reached out to Apple for comment and will post an update on what we hear back.

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