Spotify acquires content moderation tech company Kinzen to address platform safety issues

Spotify this morning announced it’s acquiring Dublin, Ireland-based content moderation tech company Kinzen, which had been working in partnership with the streamer since 2020. Deal terms were not disclosed. At Spotify, Kinzen’s technology will be put to use to help the company better moderate podcasts and other audio using a combination of machine learning and human expertise — the latter which includes analysis from local academics and journalists, the company says.

Founded in 2017 by Áine Kerr, Mark Little and Paul Watson, Kinzen’s mission has focused on protecting public conversations from “dangerous misinformation and harmful content,” according to its website.

This is an area Spotify has had direct experience with due to the controversy over its top podcaster, Joe Rogan, who spread COVID-19 vaccine-related misinformation on his show, leading to a public backlash and PR nightmare for the company. At one point, 270 physicians and scientists signed an open letter to Spotify demanding that it create misinformation policies to address the matter. The hashtag #deletespotify was trending, and high-profile artists like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell pulled their music from the service in protest.

Spotify later revised its policies around COVID-19 and misinformation in early 2022, though critics and experts argued the actual changes fell short of making a sizable impact. This June, Spotify took another step toward getting a better handle on the content published to its platform with the creation of a “Safety Advisory Council,” whose job it is to help guide Spotify’s future content moderation decisions.

Today’s announcement of the acquisition of Kinzen is an indication that even that step was not enough — Spotify needed to bring content moderation expertise in-house, it seems.

In short, Kinzen’s solutions are aimed at helping platforms more quickly respond to content moderation issues in real time by using a combination of technology and human expertise at scale.

Kinzen’s suite of tools includes those that help platforms plan ahead by getting early warnings about evolving narratives and trends that could later become misinformation risks. This includes analysis of a broad range of areas, like medical misinformation, antisemitism, hateful content, climate misinformation, violent extremism and other dangerous misinformation across multiple markets and languages. It provides its customers with actionable insights across policy violations, which can address audio, video and text-based content. This cross-platform support is particularly important, given Spotify’s expansion into video podcasts and desire to cater to advertisers who don’t want their brand positioned next to toxic content.

Spotify notes that Kinzen will be especially valuable as it’s capable of analyzing content in hundreds of languages and dialects, which will help the company detect emerging threats across markets. It says it’s bringing the entire Kinzen team, including its leadership, to the company, where they will continue to oversee the work as the tech and expertise is integrated with Spotify’s own platform.

“We’ve long had an impactful and collaborative partnership with Kinzen and its exceptional team. Now, working together as one, we’ll be able to even further improve our ability to detect and address harmful content, and importantly, in a way that better considers local context,” said Dustee Jenkins, Spotify’s global head of Public Affairs, in a statement about the deal. “This investment expands Spotify’s approach to platform safety, and underscores how seriously we take our commitment to creating a safe and enjoyable experience for creators and users,” she added.

“The combination of tools and expert insights is Kinzen’s unique strength that we see as essential to identifying emerging abuse trends in markets and moderating potentially dangerous content at scale,” stated Sarah Hoyle, Spotify’s head of Trust and Safety. “This expansion of our team, combined with the launch of our Safety Advisory Council, demonstrates the proactive approach we’re taking in this important space.”

According to data from Crunchbase, Kinzen had raised around €2.3 million in funding over two rounds, the last being a November 2020 seed round.