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Anchor could automatically delete your account without warning

· By · 3.6 minutes to read

Jonathan Mendonsa had a show removed last week from Anchor. “We found evidence of potentially infringing content in your podcast,” said a vague email from “Team Anchor”, and “as a result, it has been taken down”.

That wasn’t all. Jonathan’s Anchor account had, in fact, been completely deleted.

“Per our terms of service, we take action on potentially infringing podcasts to protect legal entities and our users from formal copyright claims,” the email continued, adding “if you have any further questions about the legality of content in your podcast, we suggest reaching out to a legal specialist directly”.

Jonathan was confused. He’s no stranger to podcasting; using Libsyn to host shows that get between 1 to 2 million listens per month, he told Podnews.

His Anchor podcast, however, had been removed within just two hours of posting the initial audio.

“I was creating a tutorial on how to make a podcast with Anchor,” he told Podnews. “I uploaded the audio and I finished the tutorial thinking - wow, that was crazy easy. But just two hours later, I got this notice: and I’m also locked out of my account entirely.”

The audio in question? This trailer - a 76 second trailer, all speech, of Jonathan’s own voice: the trailer for a new show that he’d uploaded a day earlier on Libsyn. That show is also carried on Spotify.

Jonathan wrote to Anchor, in an email seen by Podnews, asking for a little more detail.

Anchor responded: “Looking backstage, your account was removed because there was evidence that it was repurposing content from this existing podcast,” linking to Jonathan’s own show on Libsyn.

“Now, with your context, it would seem that the content may have been from your own show,” Anchor continued. “Apologies for any distress and confusion caused by this. We’d be happy to reinstate your test account if you can confirm the ownership of the original show.”

Jonathan told Podnews: “I was testing Anchor to see if I would recommend it to my podcast course students. This ”duplicate content" caused them to not only take down the episode but to actually shut down my account entirely without no recourse or notice. What does that mean when a podcaster wants to republish an old episode? Or use a clip from another episode?"

For this show to have been pulled within two hours of posting must mean that Anchor is automatically comparing audio uploaded to their platform with all audio already available on Spotify - since this audio was identical to an episode already there.

“Anchor needs to clarify the tech they are using, and what triggers this,” Jonathan told us. “I never considered that any podcast platform would be looking for duplicate content, so I just used the same trailer. I wouldn’t be mad if it got flagged or the episode got unpublished - but to delete the entire account?”

Automated unpublishing of episodes for suspected copyright infringements may be an unfortunate knock-on effect of Anchor and Spotify’s success, and the fact that some are using it to publish music illegally.

However, as Jonathan says: “What does that mean if Anchor holds your RSS feed, and just deletes your account? What is your recourse?”

But as we went to press we searched for Office Ladies, one of the most popular podcasts in the country. Which we found. Along with Office Ladies (hosted on Anchor); Office Ladies (also hosted on Anchor by username “Kirstin P”), or Office ladies (yes, hosted on Anchor, this time by Nahar Dalam, with a link to an Anchor Payments support page, or Office Ladies - Earwolf & Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey (which appears to have disappeared already but was on Anchor), or finally Office Ladies, hosted by Anchor by Abrar Sinn, with an Anchor Payments support page. Suddenly, the requirement to automatically delete accounts makes a little more sense.

We reported in June 2019 that Anchor’s special relationship with Apple means they bypass Apple’s approval process. This now seems to be facilitating pirated copies of podcasts; and also, now, causing other users to have their account removed.


Update: While we gave Anchor more than 24 hours to comment to the above story, they did not respond before publication; however, they have since sent us a comment.

Anchor say that they do not have an algorithm that automatically deletes duplicates; instead, the company uses a combination of automated and human-detected signals to assess potential infringement, and they tell Podnews that podcasts are always elevated to a human before any action is taken. In this case, the podcast had “similar content to the Libsyn-hosted Spotify listing”, and it had other negative signals which led to its removal.

James Cridland is the Editor of Podnews, a keynote speaker and consultant. He wrote his first podcast RSS feed in January 2005; and also launched the first live radio streaming app for mobile phones in the same year. He's worked in the audio industry since 1989.

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