Data Ethics Unit to probe the impact of music streaming algorithms

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The government unit dedicated to promoting the ethical use of data and automation should examine the role played by algorithmic recommendation systems in music streaming services.

The Center for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) has announced that it will conduct research on artists – or “music creators” – to learn more about their experiences with the algorithms used by streaming providers. music, and the impact of these programs on their work.

The survey is part of a wider CDEI research into the role of algorithms in recommending content to users of streaming services, such as Spotify. The government body’s investigation will include looking at the impact on how music is consumed by listeners and, in turn, how that affects artists.

The center said: “CDEI will conduct a survey to consider creators’ perspectives as part of our research, as well as to begin to understand if and how algorithm-based recommendation systems affect different categories of creators. , creators of different genres. , and whether there are any apparent differences in their effect by region, age, gender identity, or ethnic group.

Created in 2019, the CDEI sits within the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sports.

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Last year, the DCMS Policy Select Committee of the House of Commons conducted an inquiry into the economy of music streaming. In the resulting report, one of MPs’ recommendations was that “the government should commission research into the impact of streaming service algorithms on music consumption, including where creators waive royalty payments. in exchange for an algorithmic promotion”.

The government accepted this recommendation and stated that the conduct of such research would represent a continuation of previous work undertaken by the CDEI.

“The government (…) agrees that further research into the recommendation algorithms used by streaming services would be useful and takes the growing role of algorithms seriously,” it said in its response. official to the committee. “The CDEI published the final report of its review of biases in algorithmic decision-making in November 2020, and the government responded to this report in July 2021 explaining how we are implementing several recommendations.

“Furthermore, research on creator earnings [commissioned by the Intellectual Property Office] pointed out that this was an area of ​​additional research that would be beneficial for the government to undertake. This research suggested an investigation to determine whether adjustments to recommendation algorithms can change the distribution of streaming revenue, so that less popular artists receive a larger share.

The DCMS committee’s investigation aimed to shed light on “the economic impact that music streaming is having on artists, record labels and the sustainability of the broader music industry”. The survey was launched to better understand how and why artists receive “as little as 13%” of the more than £1 billion generated each year from streaming, according to the committee.

MEPs reviewed the business models and practices of Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and Google Play, and also took steps to “consider whether the Government should take action to protect the industry from piracy following the measures taken by the EU on copyright and intellectual property rights”.

Sharon D. Cole