Last month, European digital music site Spotify arrived in the U.S. and has already made a large splash among early adopters. If you haven’t heard of it yet, Spotify allows users access to more than 15 million songs for free. Their ability to do this is supported mainly by audio and banner advertisements although the main goal is to get users to trade up for paid subscriptions. There’s a $5 per month computer-only version sans advertisements or a $10 per month package that can be used on mobile devices. If you are just tinkering around with it, there are a ton of upsides to Spotify.
Up until recently, the only drawbacks of the service seemed to be figuring out the interface or the pesky audio advertisements. However, over the last seven days, Spotify has come under fire for several reasons including a patent-infringement lawsuit filed against them several days ago and more recent news that they were caught using an indestructible cookie for the sake of tracking their users. I won’t be pedestrian and say that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, but it shouldn’t be shocking that Spotify has dirt on its shoes. It is a little surprising, however, that the dirt was discovered this early into its U.S. tenure.
Last week, San Diego-based software maker PacketVideo sued Spotify in both the United States and the Netherlands claiming that the Swedish-based music subscription site is violating a patent for a “device for the distribution of music in digital form.” Digital news site Electronista was first to report on the issue. That lawsuit will now have to play itself out in courts on two continents but it sure isn’t a welcome hello to America. There always seems to be intellectual property lawsuits with cloud music services these days so it’s not entirely shocking either.
Beyond that legal dust-up, just yesterday, news broke that researchers at UC Berkeley discovered Spotify was using a vicious cookie in its software that can’t be deleted no matter what the user does to disable it. The purpose of the cookie is to track users habits and, inevitably, to be used for marketing purposes. The ill-intentioned cookie is powered by tech company KISSmetrics and is the same one that Hulu was caught using as well. Spotify quickly suspended use of the cookie but one has to wonder why they wanted to start out playing dirty.
The latter situation seems worse than their problem with PacketVideo. At the core, the allegation is that Spotify intends to spy on its own users. That’s clearly no good and consumers are consistently pushing back against measures like these. Spotify was smart to halt using the cookie. But we’ll see if the bruise to the music streaming site’s reputation has lingering damages.