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Apple Music Has Been Penalizing Streaming Fraud Since 2022

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While Spotify is planning to start penalizing labels and distributors for egregious instances of streaming fraud, Apple Music quietly rolled out its own strengthened fraud protections — including hitting repeat offenders with “financial adjustments” — more than a year ago, according to an email obtained by Billboard that the platform sent to music industry partners in March. Apple Music’s internal metrics indicate that the policy has already led to a 30% drop in streaming manipulation.

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In the March email, the streamer defines manipulation as “the deliberate, artificial creation of plays for royalty, chart, and popularity purposes” as well as “the delivery of deceptive or manipulative content, like an album of 31-second songs.” “In October [2022], we launched new tools and policies designed to prevent stream manipulation on Apple Music,” the email explains. “Since we launched the new tools, manipulated streams have accounted for only 0.3 percent of all streams.” 

That 0.3 percent figure is lower than the stats cited by some of Apple Music’s rivals. A Spotify spokesperson told a Swedish newspaper earlier this year that “less than one percent of all streams on Spotify have been determined to be tampered with,” while Deezer has said that it finds 7% of plays to be fraudulent. (This comparison only goes so far, though, because each service might define fraud differently, and not all of them have ad-supported tiers.) 

In a statement, an Apple Music spokesperson said the platform “takes stream manipulation very seriously. Apple Music has a team of people dedicated to tracking and investigating any instances where manipulation is suspected. Penalties include cancellation of user accounts, removal of content, termination of distributor agreements, and financial adjustments.”

When Apple Music emailed industry partners in March, the streaming service noted that “despite the low percentage [of fraud], manipulation remains a widespread and persistent problem: That 0.3% of streams came from more than 85,000 albums across hundreds of record labels.” 

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As a result, the email indicates the company outlined a sharper anti-fraud policy in October 2022, promising to take “remedial actions against content providers with repeated and significant stream manipulation.” This means of incentivizing reform has worked for some — half the distributors that were flagged for fake streaming have reduced manipulation on their content by over 45%, the company said.

To help labels and distributors figure out where fraud is occurring, Apple Music’s email says the platform started sending daily reports detailing “a content provider’s albums with streams held in review.” “After each review,” the email goes on, “we remove manipulated streams and release legitimate plays. At the end of each month, content providers also receive a report with all excluded streams.” (Spotify has now also ramped up the reporting it provides to labels and distributors, according to one executive at a distribution company, “adding a new dimension of seeing repeat offenders.”)

“This all happens before Apple Music pays royalties and tabulates charts,” the email noted. “We block wrongdoers from the primary advantages of stream manipulation and redirect royalties to valid plays of content.”

The last six months have seen a flurry of companies committing publicly to fraud mitigation. More than half a dozen distributors formed “a global task force aimed at eradicating streaming fraud” in June. And when Deezer announced a new partnership with Universal Music Group in September, Michael Nash, UMG’s executive vp and chief digital officer, promised that “fraud and gaming, which serves only to deprive artists their due compensation, will be aggressively addressed.”

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