Pandora Politics: The Music Industry And Political Stereotyping

Can the music you listen to help to identify your political beliefs or affiliation? The Pandora Internet Radio program announced recently that they would be launching a pointed advertising system personalized for the type of music you listen to. Pandora believes that information, combined with location and age, can predict how a person plans to vote within 75 percent accuracy.

Pandora’s algorithm for analyzing components of the music people listen to to craft a custom-made playlist for each individual has long been heralded by anyone with a love for music; however, they plan to take it a step further. Pandora believes that the type of music people listen to proves to be the perfect indicator for which political ads to target them with. Pandora seems to be quite certain that their first venture into the political realm will be effective as well as lucrative.

Now, this may seem like a foolproof system. However, privacy concerns and perpetuating political/musical stereotypes must be brought to the forefront of the discussion.

It would seem at first glance that most people have no problem with sharing the music they listen to on a regular basis. But don’t we all have a few artists or songs that we wouldn’t like people knowing that we listen to? Does the Christian mother of four want it to be known that she actually likes listening to Slipknot while she runs her daily mile?  God knows, the captain of the football team can’t be heard listening to One Direction. What about the All-American male? Does he want his drinking buddies knowing that he can sing every word in Taylor Swift’s “Love Story?” Many people like to keep such things private. Music functions as a tool for many to express feelings they may not be comfortable sharing with friends, family, and especially not solicitors looking for a vote. By selling their users’ valuable information to the highest political bidder, Pandora is effectively sacrificing the privacy of their users. The ever-changing Internet culture has seen the arrival of a decline in privacy, and with this latest announcement by Pandora, they’ve joined the herd.

The major concern of Pandora’s new political advertisement system is the reliance on stereotypes. But stereotypes are neither fair nor effective, especially when it comes to the correlation between politics and music. For example, according to Pandora, if you listen to a good amount of Christian music, you’re probably going to vote Republican. What about jazz? You’re a Democrat. Obviously country music listeners are going to be more conservative and hip-hop listeners are more likely to be liberal.

When asked about the relationship between the music and political affiliation, Bryan Purcell, a 19-year-old sophomore at Boston University, said he listens to country music and voted for President Barack Obama. Would Purcell receive a conservative political ad if Pandora used his music history filled with country music? It remains to be seen, but it seems likely.

Even on a personal level, I’m a lover of all music Lady Gaga makes; yet in 2012, I voted for Mitt Romney. I doubt that I would have heard a conservative ad if Pandora shared my music history filled with “Born This Way” and “Poker Face.”

Defining people based on their interests should not concern our society. Pandora just happens to be making a profit from it. America is touted internationally as a country of mixed cultures, interests, and people. Somewhere in this great country is a hymn-singing Democrat and a Tupac-rapping Republican.

Of course, there are going to be a majority of people that fit the algorithm Pandora uses for political ads. However, the 25 percent they aren’t accounting for – the people that they are misjudging – are the people that might matter the most. That quarter of Pandora’s users, plus the incorrectly targeted users where Pandora can’t pinpoint political affiliations, could be a significant faction.

Maybe the political campaigns on both sides should be more concerned with listening to what the constituents have to say instead of what music they listen to. The concerns of the voters should be paramount, far more important than mindless advertisement based on musical interests.