How I bickered and bonded with a Spotify hacker

By Eloise Horsfield
Reporter

Published
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image captionEloise Horsfield's Spotify account was compromised on 2 February

When my Spotify account was hacked during the current lockdown, I communicated with the unwanted visitor using song and podcast titles.

I live alone in Bristol and work from home. One morning, when I hadn't seen anyone except the cat for four full days, I received three emails - each informing me of a "new login" to the music-streaming service. The mystery user was apparently in the US.

I opened the app on my phone and, sure enough, a song I hadn't selected was playing. It was Come Up by hip-hop/rap artist Kashoutjae - not something I'd choose.

There was obviously someone else logged in. I quickly pressed stop.

Silence.

Thinking about it, my Spotify username and password were identical and had been the same since joining the platform back in 2009. So, it's hardly surprising my account was so easy to penetrate.

My unwelcome guest persisted, playing Inferno (Mandios), followed by Restful Sounds (Jamson Clark).

Each time the music started, I stopped it immediately. But it just kept on coming, with a new song starting up within a few seconds. Next my kitchen was blessed with No Enemies (Port), which begins with a rather ominous-sounding keyboard riff and a stream of profanities.

Charming.

This is my Spotify account, I thought.

Irritated, I interrupted my visitor's enjoyment by playing a Lily Allen song I thought would aptly reflect my disgust.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionLily Allen's 2009 song provided a way to vent frustration

Its title and chorus twists "thank you" into an expletive-driven command that is unrepeatable here.

"We hate what you do. And we hate your whole crew. So, please don't stay in touch," went one verse, helping communicate my fury.

In less than a minute, my hacker had switched the song to a profanity-filled choice of their own. I hit straight back with three choices featuring extreme swear words in their titles, intending to drive home my message. Lovely Choice (Transvestinno), came the reply after a few seconds.

Ah, so my hacker was a human being!

Suddenly he or she didn't seem nearly so creepy or weird any more, and I felt us connect. As I said, the last human I'd seen was my boyfriend, but that had been several days earlier.

Thank You (Busta Rhymes) I replied, feeling a bit humble.

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image captionBusta Rhymes provided a way to calm communications

Feelings (CJB) they played in response, and I felt like we were getting on just fine. With a softened heart, I selected Goodbye Stranger (Supertramp) before a finale of Nice Knowing You (Lane 3).

Then I changed my password.

But when I logged back in, my "friend" was somehow still hanging about, this time enjoying a rather mournful song called Stay Inside (JayJayEnder).

"Hey, quarantine 2020, are you ready now? I need to go outside," the artist said.

As I contacted Spotify for help again, I couldn't help noticing its haunting tune and rather relatable lyrics: "Then this virus started, no-one can go on and live their lives... Coronavirus has taken my summer away."

I felt a pang of sympathy, imagining somebody with no money to spare for a music subscription, just wanting to listen to some songs to pass the time.

A helpful Spotify employee was soon on the case. In the next 40 minutes, as we tried to sort it out, my long-distance buddy regaled me with 26 more hip-hop and rock tracks, all of which I stopped almost instantly, out of frustration.

I couldn't tell if he or she was antagonising me with titles like Too Close (Mean Mywhyfe), Slaughtered (Unholy Funeral) and Silent Madness (Shooting Tunes). But they all seemed somehow fitting to the situation.

Either way, their music taste was now driving me crazy.

The angry lyrics and repetitive drumbeats sounded particularly grating coming through my smartphone speakers. And when a rock track called Crazy Smiles (Visible Invisibles Souls) started up, I cracked and selected Go Away (Weezer).

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionWeezer's song features the lyrics: "Go away, go away, go away - don't come back here any more."

My hacker replied, Stressed Out (Kashoutjae).

You bet I'm stressed out, I thought!

Work to Do (Average White Band) I told them, followed by a podcast titled Got No Time For This, which was actually in Indonesian - but hey, it's the title that counts.

Heartbreak (Manuel), they replied. I couldn't help but think they were mocking me.

Seriously irked, I decided to let them know exactly what I thought of their choices, playing Bad Taste In Music = Low IQ? from the Sound Alchemy podcast.

Then I switched to Sorry You're Not a Winner (Enter Shikari). Ha!

image copyrightGetty Images
image caption"Sorry, you're not a winner with the air so cold and a mind so bitter", go the words to Enter Shikari's song

A passive-aggressive selection of songs by both of us continued for a while, until I tried to call things to a halt by playing the podcast Go For A Walk Outdoors (Finding Better Balance), followed by some ambient music to calm things down.

Fan (Crashout) came the response. I guess it worked.

In any case, Spotify had finally set me up with a brand new account, so that was the end of the hour-long encounter.

I'll never know who the hacker was or what situation they were in.

But this brief connection - however unwelcome and anonymous - had provided a brief respite from the solitude of lockdown.

It was a brief interaction with a new person that was neither work-related nor involved a snatched conversation at a shop from behind a mask and Perspex.

And now, looking back, I find myself reflecting that this intrusion feels like it was a much less negative experience than it might have done under normal circumstances.

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