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A man violated a restraining order by renaming his estranged wife’s Napster playlists

A man violated a restraining order by renaming his estranged wife’s Napster playlists


Streaming services can be a vector for harassment

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Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

An Ohio man harassed his estranged wife through a shared Napster account, evading a no-contact order by changing the titles of playlists. Ohio’s Eighth District Court of Appeals outlined the case in a July 29th ruling, which was flagged on Twitter by writer and attorney Eric Goldman. It’s an example of how metadata can become a vector for harassment outside major social platforms — echoing long-standing problems on other services like Spotify.

According to the court ruling, defendant Jacob Dunn admitted to reaching out to his wife through a Napster account that both of them could access. A court had issued a temporary protection order (TPO) against Dunn in 2018, prohibiting him from contacting his wife through any means. But Dunn violated the order by renaming music playlists — one was changed to “I want us to work. Do you? I’ll do anything,” another to “I love you more than ever ... do you still love me?”

He’d agreed not to contact his wife through any medium

Dunn pled no contest to aggravated menacing and violating the order, although he later unsuccessfully attempted to withdraw and appeal his plea. At his sentencing hearing he claimed he hadn’t understood the rules of the TPO, despite explicitly agreeing to them beforehand — “I figured out the hard way, unfortunately,” he said. Court records indicate he was sentenced to probation.

Napster — a streaming service previously called Rhapsody, distinct from the defunct file-sharing service — is one of many usually innocuous services that stalkers and harassers can exploit. As Forbes contributor Barry Collins has reported, Spotify users have complained about being followed by stalkers who can view targets’ listening sessions and share playlists with abusive names. They’ve criticized Spotify for dragging its feet on privacy and blocking tools.

This case involves a more unusual problem that most anti-harassment measures wouldn’t mitigate, since it involves two people who had agreed to share an account. (It’s not clear whether they agreed to keep sharing it after separating or if Dunn’s wife simply hadn’t considered revoking his access.) It’s a clearer demonstration of how digital entanglements can have unexpected downsides — even with something as simple as a music playlist.