Is Spotify Safe for Kids? The Not-So-Kid-Friendly Music Streaming Service

post image 32250

Words by
Ray Norton

Published on

12.01.2022

I love Spotify. 

One of the main ways my dad connected with me was by sharing his music. So when I found the free streaming service, I shared it with him. 

The app informed him that last year alone he listened to 26,000 songs, making him part of the top 3% of Spotify listeners.

My dad can listen unfettered, but what about my nieces and nephews? Is Spotify safe for them? 

Read on for some of the dangers of Spotify for kids, how pornography can be accessed on the app, and solutions for you and your family.

Spotify’s Market Share: A Music Behemoth

Of a global 523.9 million music subscriptions, 31% are subscribed to Spotify, with Apple and Amazon Music following with 15% and 13% of subscriptions.  

That totals to around 180,000,000 Spotify listeners. 

For context, that equals about half of the United States’ population.


Global Streaming Music Subscription Market Graph

That number doesn’t even include kids that use their parents’ Spotify accounts.

Spotify Kids and other Kids Streaming Music Players

Most child music streaming services have low age ranges, like Baby Mozart and Sesame Street Makes Music. 

The most commonly recognized app is Spotify Kids.

While Spotify Kids has around 300,000 songs, it lacks the functionality of the main app, only scoring 2.7 out of 5 stars on Apple reviews, and about the same in the Google Play Store. Because of limited user experience, many kids use their parents’ accounts under their supervision. 

Unfortunately, a lot of parents don’t know the dangers of allowing their kids to use their Spotify account unmonitored.

The Explicit Side of Music: How It’s Categorized

Streaming services usually mark explicit music with a parental warning label, or an “E” tag. This is not legally mandated.

Parental Advisory Explicit Content Warning Label

On most streaming platforms, explicit content includes:

-Strong language and swearing

-Violence and abuse

-Discrimination

-Reference to sexual activity

Unfortunately this Parental Advisory isn’t flagged on all explicit content on Spotify. More on that in a minute.

Does Spotify Have Parental Controls? 

The extent of Spotify’s parental control is a single switch. You can toggle a setting that excludes any explicit music on your account from playing. This is minimal as far as parental controls go, and comes with some major caveats.

Allow Spotify Explicit Content toggle

When explicit content is disallowed, the explicit songs, titles, and album art are still visible in search results and playlists. The difference is that they are now grayed out so a person can’t click on them. 

Is All Explicit Content Marked on Spotify?

Spotify’s own website says they aren’t able to tag all explicit content, since the “E tag” depends on information they receive from artists. 

This means some explicit content will pass through the explicit filter if it isn’t flagged by the uploader.

With around 60,000 songs uploaded to Spotify every day, that’s about one song per second. That’s a lot of content for people to self-report.

In 2019, Spotify gave the option to report explicit content if it wasn’t already tagged. However, they discontinued the function soon after, likely due to the 2020 release of Spotify Kids.

Now the only option is to report abuse, which is important, but limited.

report abuse in Spotify Settings

Graphic Content on Spotify: How it Shows Up

Parents and other kid-safe companies might think Spotify is safe for kids because they don’t know how explicit content shows up on the app. Below are some ways you might have heard and perhaps some you might not know about:

Lyrics

Have you ever heard of porn rap? I knew about sexually explicit lyrics, but was’t aware there was an entire sub-genre until recently. 

It’s what it sounds like: rap with graphically sexual lyrics. “Porn rap” is a searchable genre on Spotify.

Obviously some music lyrics contain explicit content, but as mentioned previously, the bigger concern is that explicit content isn’t always marked as such on Spotify. The same goes for violence, drugs, swearing, and discriminatory content.

One song that popped up on my explore playlist this morning was called “Drunk S*x” with a blurred-out, nude person on the album cover. It wasn’t tagged as explicit because it was a beat track without any lyrics.

This is just one of virtually endless examples that aren’t marked as explicit.

Album Art

Like that album cover, there are endless kid-inappropriate album covers from artists, even if they aren’t fully pornographic. 

Sadly, things get worse from there.

In addition to artists, users can upload playlist covers as well.

Any user who creates a playlist on Spotify can upload their own art for the playlist cover; and if it’s a public playlist, anyone can see it. 

I’m sure you can guess the kinds of cover art that appears when you search “porn rap” or anything related to porn, really. 

For anyone who can’t guess, it’s porn.

It’s also important to note that most of these pornographic playlist covers make it past the the explicit content filter, and even the ones who get filtered still appear in search results, even though you can’t click on them.

Even more loopholes around the explicit content toggle are coming out, like typing commas into the search bar first, which allows explicit queries to go through.

Looped Videos

The buck doesn’t stop with still images. 

Looped videos are a fun feature that artists can use to play short clips that loop behind their song as it plays. 

Spotify song looped video

Unfortunately, these looped videos can include almost anything.

I recently shuffled through a top artists playlist to get an idea of some of the videos that millions of people see daily. 

Just in this popular playlist of 20 songs, there was someone twerking on the ground in lingerie, others that featured blurred nudity, and plenty of other explicit content. 

To young, impressionable brains, some of these sexually explicit looped videos can have a major negative impact. 

Spotify as a Gateway App? An Anecdote

My 11 year old nephew was beat up on the playground a couple weeks ago. 

When the bully’s mom called my sister to apologize, she said that last year her son asked to have Spotify to listen to after he was done with classwork. 

Ever since, he has been struggling at home, swearing, harassing girls, and picking on other students.

She expressed regret that they should’ve been more aware of his phone usage after that because they found out he got into “other things.” This is likely due to Spotify requiring internet access that opens the door to other problems.

While I’m not saying Spotify creates bullies, I am acknowledging that the music streaming app seems like it would be mostly safe and necessary. It’s understandable why this mom didn’t do a deep investigation before saying yes to her son.

She might not have considered the internet access that would come with Spotify and the other trouble her son could find in an adult world.

Media Literacy 

My 17 year old nephew uses Spotify, and since he and his parents have an open dialogue surrounding pornography and explicit content, he brings his phone to my sister whenever he encounters it to let her know. 

He’s media literate enough to know what to do when he comes across inappropriate content, and sadly Spotify is one of the apps he’s brought her over the years. 

boy looking concerned at phone

Find out more about what media literacy is and how to have conversations with your kids to empower them in their media consumption.

Dangers of Parental Controls and Other “Kid-Safe” Phones

Some parents will settle into a false peace of mind if they’re told a device or app is safe for kids, even if it isn’t. 

Spotify is an approved app on some “kid-safe” phones and software. Unfortunately, you can still access the same pornographic content on those devices. Not cool. 

With filtering software, another danger to consider is that some searches don’t trigger the filters. 

For example, the emoji for thinking (🤔) is slang for oral sex, and most parental control software and apps won’t catch it. If you enter that emoji into Spotify search for example, hard-core pornography is served up in the results. It’s not registered by the filters as a problematic search query. 

The same goes for many slang emojis with inappropriate meanings.

Filtration Vs. Curation

At Gabb, we would rather prevent kids from being exposed to harmful content online than do damage control afterwards. 

This is something parents have to consider when shopping for kid-safe devices. 

If there is internet on a kids phone, even if it’s marketed as “safe for kids,” you’re increasing your risk of them running into unsafe content in unexpected ways.

Is Spotify Safe for Kids? 

In short, no. Spotify parental controls are limited to a single switch. That explicit content toggle doesn’t filter out all explicit content and definitely doesn’t filter pornographic playlist covers, album art, and podcasts. 

I think the Spotify Kids app is a great alternative, but has low user functionality and low user ratings. I don’t see my 15 year old, music-loving niece using it. Lucky for us, there is a better option!

Gabb Music: The Best Music App for Kids

Gabb Music is Gabb’s solution to clean music for kids. With a safe filter, there are no bleeps, just beats. Your kids can listen to top hits from top artists and explore new songs while you can have 100% confidence that they’re safe.

two young girls listening to music and smiling

How do you listen to music with your kids? Do you think a kid-safe music streaming service is necessary? We want to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Ray Norton

Ray is an auntie of 11 nieces and nephews, loves a good meme, and is committed to creating safety for kids in the digital space.

Find more by Ray Norton

A Phone parents and kids both love!

Communication for kids, safety for parents.

Comments

  • Anonymous on Dec 08, 2022 06:08 PM

    Biased. You run your own streaming service.

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