Spotify: Your Political Ads Are No Good Here

By Tom McKay on at

Streaming giant Spotify will ban all political advertising in early 2020, Ad Age reported on Friday, saying in a statement to the site that it does “not yet have the necessary level of robustness in our process, systems and tools to responsibly validate and review this content.”

The suspension of paid political ads on Spotify’s streaming platform will apply to all ad-supported content, including its original podcasts, Ad Age wrote. That tier has around 141 million users. The company added in the statement that it would “reassess this decision as we continue to evolve our capabilities.”

By banning political ads, Spotify is following the same path as Google and Twitter, the former of which suspended microtargeting for political ads and the latter shut them down entirely. It’s the opposite strategy as the one pursued by Facebook, which has not only embraced political ads but allowed politicians to openly lie in them.

Facebook has faced relentless criticism for months over its stance, which primarily benefits politicians eager to lie as much as possible and appears to be partially the result of a pressure campaign by conservatives. However, some progressive groups have also opposed restrictions on Facebook ads, and there’s also the question of whether setting up for-profit companies as the arbiters of political discourse will have negative consequences for groups opposing the status quo (essentially a no-win scenario created by tech firms holding too much power in the first place).

Google’s approach stakes a middle ground, allowing political ads but restricting microtargeting tools that could enable candidates to tailor messages – or lies – to extremely specific constituencies. Its policy applies worldwide and limits advertisers to targeting based on age, gender, and location at the postal code level, as well as “contextual” data like what type of news they consume.

Political ads are not huge money-makers for any of the aforementioned platforms, but they generate other benefits such as influence on the political process for the larger players with troves of useful data. Ad Age reported that a person familiar with Spotify’s ad business characterised political ads as negligible financially; buyers included Democratic candidate Senator Bernie Sanders and the Republican National Committee.

“Spotify wasn’t a widely used online advertising platform for campaigns before,” GOP digital strategist Eric Wilson told Reuters. “But as other online platforms restricted their political ad inventory, advertisers were on the hunt for new options.”

According to Ad Age, Spotify will prohibit ads placed by “political organisations such as candidates for office, elected and appointed officials, Super PACs, nonprofits and political parties,” as well as ads lobbying for or against political groups, legislation, or judicial decisions. It will not affect content embedded in podcasts themselves, the site wrote, and the decision will only be in effect stateside.