Dublin tech company Kinzen acquired by Spotify to help it detect harmful content

Founded by Mark Little, Áine Kerr and Paul Watson, Kinzen will identify ‘emerging threats’ for the audio streamer

Spotify has acquired Kinzen, a Dublin-based company founded by Mark Little, Áine Kerr and Paul Watson, saying it will use its “advanced technology and deep expertise” to help it identify harmful content and “emerging threats” on its audio streaming platform. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Kinzen, which was first founded in 2017 as Neva Labs and changed its name a year later, originally focused on news curation before pivoting into the online trust and safety sector, using its technology to identify harmful content and hate speech. It has been working with Spotify since 2020, initially on electoral integrity, flagging podcast content for review ahead of that year’s presidential election.

Mr Little, a former RTÉ journalist who previously founded the company Storyful before selling it to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, said the deal signalled Dublin’s emerging status as a hub for trust and safety, and was an example of one European company buying another European company in a global industry more typically associated with Silicon Valley.

Kinzen’s technology combines machine learning and human expertise – backed by analysis from leading local academics and journalists – to analyse potential harmful content and hate speech in multiple languages and countries. This will “help Spotify better understand the abuse landscape and identify emerging threats” on its platform, the streamer said.


Mr Little, Kinzen’s chief executive, tweeted that he was proud of the Kinzen team and “excited” by its future with Spotify. Ms Kerr, its chief operating officer, expressed similar sentiments, saying the company would “continue our purpose-driven impactful work” under the new ownership.

The pair intend to remain with the company, which employs 22 people full-time at its Dublin office, Mr Little said. The third co-founder, Mr Watson, left Kinzen in 2019.

Stockholm-founded Spotify, the market leader for audio subscriptions, said acquiring Kinzen would help it “more effectively deliver a safe, enjoyable experience on our platform around the world”. It said its current partnership with the Irish company had been “critical” to enhancing its approach to platform safety, and that its technology was “particularly suited” for podcasting and audio formats, making its value to Spotify “clear and unmatched”.

Mr Little said Kinzen had a network of experts in 26 languages, and that putting “the human in the loop” was a vital part of its service. “If you’re going to be a global platform you need to be able to understand the complex linguistic and cultural nuances,” he said, noting that social media giants have previously been criticised for adopting an Anglophone focus in their approach to trust and safety. “This is the most decisive shift away from a focus on people who speak English and quote-unquote live in the western world.”

Dustee Jenkins, Spotify’s global head of public affairs, said the investment in Kinzen “underscores how seriously we take our commitment to creating a safe and enjoyable experience for creators and users”.

“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.”

The Swedish company recently opened a podcast moderation base in Dublin.

“This move builds on our announcement earlier this year that we have opened a trust and safety hub in Dublin in an effort to enhance our work and grow our global team,” Ms Jenkins said.

Sarah Hoyle, Spotify’s head of trust and safety, added that the acquisition, combined with its launch of a safety advisory council, demonstrated a “proactive approach” to safety.

The deal follows a backlash to Spotify’s handling of harmful content earlier this year after its star podcaster signing, Joe Rogan, was accused of spreading Covid-19 misinformation, prompting singer Neil Young and a number of other artists to remove their music from the platform.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics