There's a flaw in the popular streaming music program Spotify that could be taking years off the life of thousands of hard drives. Ars Technica reported on the problem not long ago, but the actual issue for people using the desktop streaming app dates back at least as far as June 2016. What's going on?
It appears that someone made a big mistake when programming the problematic Spotify build. The culprit seems to be a command that affects a file containing the string Mercury.db. The extension .db stands for "database" in this case (technically, there are six kinds of files that can have the .db extension).
A VACUUM command is overwriting the Mercury.db file every few minutes on desktops running the client on Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems. The purpose of the VACUUM process is to repack .db files to take up the least amount of space — to do so it has to rebuild the file. It seems as though a programmer accidentally set the VACUUM process to run far too frequently.
Rewriting the file once is no big deal. But doing so repeatedly throughout the day generates a lot of data. And Spotify is doing this even if the program is idle in the background. According to Ars Technica, users investigating the problem discovered their computers were writing and rewriting gigabytes or even terabytes worth of data.
The problem gets worse if you have a solid-state drive (SSD). These types of drives have a limited number of overwriting cycles. As you use these cycles, the capacity for the drive declines. It's similar to how a chemical battery will lose its charge capacity over time. Eventually, the drive's capacity will become too small to write any new data to the drive.
Your average computer user doesn't have to worry about this limitation very much. Not many people are using up the cycles that quickly. But this bug means an automated process is using up those cycles as long as Spotify is running, even if no music is playing. Leave your computer on with Spotify chugging along and you're actively decreasing the life span of your hard drive.
Does this bug also mean you're unwittingly burning through any data caps you might have with your internet service provider? Fortunately, the answer to that question is "nope." All of these processes are happening natively on your computer. So you don't have to worry about Spotify draining your data allowance from your ISP. That much is a relief, at least.
But what's the solution? Spotify says it has solved the problem with the latest update, designated Spotify 1.0.42. Spotify is rolling out that update to users right now, but not everyone has access to it yet. There are also manual workarounds if you're relatively computer savvy, but they involve editing files. In the meantime, if you have Spotify and it's not version 1.0.42, you should probably close out the program for now. You can always use the Web player.