Starting March 8, 2023, Spotify is rolling out a significant change to all users. The new features pose serious concerns for the well-being of the teens and tweens who use the platform.
Spotify's home screen will no longer be a grid of album covers but an infinite scroll of short-form videos like a TikTok feed. Spotify has said they want to make it easier to find new content, with video and audio previews for music, podcasts, and audiobooks.
This type of feed: short-form, autoplay video content feeds driven by algorithms, is designed to personalize content recommendations. While this may seem harmless, fun, or helpful to adults, it can have significant risks for children, including unfiltered content and harmful overuse.
Algorithms show content that aligns with a user's interests, preferences, or random curiosities. This mechanism can lead to a dangerous spiral of inappropriate or harmful content for children, who may click on something just because they don't know what it is — and then end up with more of it whether they want it or not.
On Spotify, many parents have expressed deep concern over the obscene content in the podcast section, which cannot be blocked or filtered out and could now potentially play automatically for children who aren't even looking for it.
Even if the content were all appropriate for children (which, again: it isn't likely to be), just the nature of an autoplay infinite scroll feed poses risks to developing brains.
This mechanism is known to cause, in both adults and children, a tendency to get sucked in and continue watching for extended periods. Endless scrolling can lead to harmful levels of overuse, overstimulation, and overwhelm in kids.
As this new feature takes hold and more content is generated for it, there will likely be increased amounts of extreme and explicit content. Researchers have observed that on other platforms with these types of short-form feeds, that content contains more stereotypes and biases than different types of content because that gets the most engagement and, therefore: more views.
What Spotify Can Do
Kids and their parents almost certainly did not cross their minds in the redesign, but it is time for Spotify to address these issues and implement meaningful parental controls to protect underage users. They could make it possible for parents to opt out of this type of home screen, allow for parental control of the content served, or make it easier for parents to monitor what their kids have searched for, watched, or heard without kids being able to alter their history.
Spotify does offer Spotify Kids, which works well for kids under 13, but has a juvenile look and feel, making it a tough sell to teenagers. A reskinned version with the same functionality but appealing to teens would also be a welcome addition to their offerings and help solve the parental dilemma.
What Parents Can Do
Meanwhile, parents are advised to reevaluate Spotify for use by their children. If their children continue to use it, parents should watch closely how this new home feed evolves and notice how it affects their kids. Mood shifts and irritability, increased use, and withdrawal from previous activities or friendships can all be clues of a negative impact from this sort of feed in Spotify or any other app.
Music Streaming Alternatives on Pinwheel
1. Share Playlists from Parent's Spotify Account
If you choose to keep using Spotify, we recommend creating playlists in your adult account and sharing them with your child in Spotify Kids. This will give your child the ability to stream a wider variety of content than is available on Spotify Kids, although the interface may be too childish for your teen.
2. Offline Music Players
Apps like Musicolet or other other offline music players will play MP3s that you download to the device from any source you like. While these do not allow for music discovery the way streaming apps do, they also use less data when your child is out and about if they're on a limited budget.
3. Apple Music or Tidal
These apps are also rated Violates Guides on the Pinwheel App Library because they do contain adult content, but not the explicit podcast section (or infinite scrolling algorithm) that Spotify will have. They are also not free.
Check out Pinwheel's App Library for more options!