James Cridland

Podcast hosts: where’s your privacy policy for podcast listeners?

Podnews, which I run, has updated its “For Podcast Listeners” section of its privacy policy to reflect that Podnews is ̶n̶o̶w̶ ̶a̶ ̶c̶l̶i̶e̶n̶t̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶T̶r̶i̶t̶o̶n̶ ̶D̶i̶g̶i̶t̶a̶l̶’̶s̶ ̶P̶o̶d̶c̶a̶s̶t̶ ̶M̶e̶t̶r̶i̶c̶s̶,̶ ̶w̶h̶o̶ ̶p̶a̶r̶s̶e̶ ̶P̶o̶d̶n̶e̶w̶s̶’̶s̶ ̶a̶u̶d̶i̶o̶ ̶l̶o̶g̶f̶i̶l̶e̶s̶.̶ (as of mid 2020, we aren’t any more, incidentally).

But that got me checking — I can’t find any major podcast host who has a privacy policy for podcast listeners.

A podcaster called David Pakman is saying (on YouTube, no less) that he’s being asked to use Omny Studio as his podcast host by his advertising agent: and he’s concerned because Omny Studio“track listeners using a tracking pixel”.

Anyone who understands how podcasts work will know that this is unlikely. A podcast is an RSS feed linking a podcast app to a piece of audio. Tracking pixels (which normally require cookies and other things) just can’t work in most podcast apps. Omny Studio have also confirmed that it “does not use tracking pixels to collect personally identifiable information about listeners.”

But it’s understandable that he got confused: because there are tracking pixels disclosed in Omny Studio’s cookie policy.

Just like any large podcast host, Omny Studio’s policies focus on their users and customers. Their cookie and privacy policy does not explicitly mention podcast listeners at all. Pakman is moving from Libsyn, who’s legal section does not include a relevant section for podcast listeners either.

In fact, I went to have a look at many of the larger podcast hosting companies. There seems no clear privacy policy for podcast listeners: people who have just hit the play button in Apple Podcasts, or Overcast, or whatever.

I only found one with a clear section for podcast listeners. Have a read of Acast’s Privacy Policy §3.5 “For listeners on third-party distribution channels” which seems well written and clear. (And there’s ours, of course).

Edit: Since publishing this article, Buzzsprout added a Privacy Policy for Listeners, and Omny Studio added their Privacy Policy for Podcast Listeners. And, later, Captivate added their own clear privacy policy for listeners, and launched a “transparency mode” to correctly identify measurement companies like Podtrac and others. Thank you!

Privacy of podcast listeners matters: since if you want to go and listen to The Big Gay Podcast for gays and their gay friends in Saudi Arabia, as one example, you’re indicating that you may be homosexual in which case you’re breaking the law and can be put to death. So if the podcast host was to be storing your information and sending it to the Saudi Arabian government, it’s no laughing matter.

If privacy of listeners is important — as it should be — then why do very few podcast hosts have a clear, simple privacy policy for people who are listening to podcasts hosted on their platform?