Spotify is a fantastic music streaming service used by more than 159 million users around the world. Around 71m of those are premium subscibers according to figures released by the company last December.
Given the above, 88 million Spotify members are using the free tier, meaning that they’re subjected to advertising and other limitations such as shuffle-only play and track skip restrictions.
The idea is that the free user gets a decent level of service but is held back just enough with small irritations to make the jump to a premium subscription a logical step at some point.
What millions of free users don’t know, however, is that there are modified Spotify apps out there that can remove many of these restrictions. All the user has to do is sign up to free Spotify account, download one of the many ‘hacked’ Spotify installation files out there, put in their username and password, and enjoy.
How many people use these hacked versions of Spotify isn’t clear and up to now, it’s been somewhat of a mystery as to why Spotify itself hasn’t done something about them. During the past few days, however, there have been signs that a crackdown could be on the way.
In an email sent to an unknown but significant number of people, Spotify informs users of modified apps that they’re on the company’s radar and there could be consequences for trying to subvert the system.
“We detected abnormal activity on the app you are using so we have disabled it. Don’t worry – your Spotify account is safe,” the email from Spotify reads.
“To access your Spotify account, simply uninstall any unauthorized or modified version of Spotify and download and install the Spotify app from the official Google Play Store. If you need more help, please see our support article on Reinstalling Spotify.”
Users have been popping up on Spotify’s forums asking why they’ve received this email. Some seem to think they’ve done nothing wrong but most signs point to people using modified software.
While the email signs off with a note thanking the recipient for being a Spotify user, there is also a warning.
“If we detect repeated use of unauthorized apps in violation of our terms, we reserve all rights, including suspending or terminating your account,” Spotify writes.
For people who used their real accounts along with modified apps this could be a problem but many people using hacked versions go in prepared with a secondary or temporary email address and false details.
Quite how far Spotify will go to rid its service of this kind of a user remains unknown but at least for now, the actual effects of this early crackdown seemed mixed.
TorrentFreak has spoken with users who have modified versions and have received the email, yet their installation still works just fine. Others report that they can no longer log in with their modified version.
What is clear, however, is that Spotify has both modified apps and their creators on its radar. On March 1, 2018 the company wrote to Github demanding that a popular Spotify mod known as ‘Dogfood’ be taken down from the repository.
The full takedown notice can be found here. It lists Dogfood itself plus a whole bunch of ‘forks’ which have also been taken down by Github.
There were signs in January that the developer of Dogfood might have been under pressure to limit the effectiveness of his app. On January 18 he announced on XDA that some functionality would be removed moving forward.
“In order to comply with XDA’s Rules and CoC, Spotify Dogfood has taken a new direction, and now offers *exclusively* Ad-free music playback,” he wrote.
“Any other features won’t be included anymore in this mod. But, that doesn’t mean anything if you’re a true, a core user of this app, because there will still be regular updates to it, as there has been up until now.”
Where that development will take place now isn’t clear but it clearly won’t be on Github. Indeed, even XDA has been targeted by Spotify, with the site receiving a DMCA notice from the company which required the removal of links and an apparent closure of the whole discussion.
For now it seems that Spotify is playing nice, at least with users of modified apps. Whether it will continue with the same relaxed attitude is unclear but it’s hard not to connect the move with its intention to go public and its $23bn valuation.
Still, the company should be more in tune with pirates than most given its history, so may yet have a decent plan up its sleeve.