Spotify Suspends Political Advertising, Citing Lack of 'Robust' Review Capabilities

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The logo of the music streaming service Spotify is displayed on a smartphone on April 20, 2017 in Berlin, Germany. 

'We do not yet have the necessary level of robustness in our responsibly validate and review this content.'

Spotify is suspending the sale of political ads on its platform beginning next year, the company has confirmed to Billboard.

“Beginning in early 2020, Spotify will pause the selling of political advertising,” said a Spotify spokesperson in an emailed statement. “This will include political advertising content in our ad-supported tier and in Spotify original and exclusive podcasts. At this point in time, we do not yet have the necessary level of robustness in our processes, systems and tools to responsibly validate and review this content. We will reassess this decision as we continue to evolve our capabilities.”

The decision only applies to Spotify in the U.S., as the service does not run political ads in other countries. The policy applies to candidates for office, elected and appointed officials, political parties, political action committees including SuperPACs and 501c4 orgs. It also bans any content that advocates for or against political entities as well as for legislative or judicial outcomes including ballot initiatives, referendums and propositions. It does not cover ads embedded in third-party content that runs on the platform (i.e. podcasts), though that content will continue to be subject to Spotify's broader content policies.

Recent political ads on Spotify have included spots for Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders and the Republican National Committee.

In making the move, Spotify joins other digital giants including Twitter and Google, both of which have either outright banned or highly curtailed political advertising this year. In October, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that the social media service would disallow all political advertising globally (“issue” ads around specific causes continue to be allowed, however). The following month, Google (which includes YouTube and Google Play Music) unveiled a more restrictive policy around political advertising worldwide, revealing that the company would, among other things, limit the granularity of audience targeting by political advertisers to only three general categories (age, gender and geographic location) and extend its transparency efforts to ads for U.S. state-level candidates, ballot measures and political parties.

These recent announcements have come in the wake of increased scrutiny around political advertising online, with platforms including Facebook and Google having previously come under fire for allowing blatantly false or misleading political ads. The call to disallow such ads has only heightened in the lead-up to the highly-polarized 2020 presidential election in the U.S.

Spotify is the first major music streaming service to announce the total ban of political advertising, though the music-centric video-sharing site TikTok also forbids it. In an October blog post, TikTok VP of Global Business Solutions Blake Chandlee stated that “the nature of paid political ads is not something we believe fits the TikTok platform experience.” Notably, Spotify’s main competitor Apple Music doesn’t offer a free ad-supported tier, making the ban of political ads on its service a non-issue.