Jun 27, 2022 - Technology

Scoop: Google moves to keep campaign messages out of spam

Illustration of an envelope with a notifications dot that switches from a donkey to an elephant.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Google has asked the Federal Election Commission to green light a program that could keep campaign emails from ending up in spam folders, according to a filing obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: Google has come under fire that its algorithms unfairly target conservative content across its services, and that its Gmail service filters more Republican fundraising and campaign emails to spam.

  • Republican leadership introduced a bill this month that would require platforms to share how their filtering techniques work and make it illegal to put campaign emails into spam unless a user asks.

How it works: Google's pilot program, per the June 21 filing, would be for "authorized candidate committees, political party committees and leadership political action committees registered with the FEC."

  • It would make campaign emails from such groups exempt from spam detection as long as they don't violate Gmail's policies around phishing, malware or illegal content.
  • Instead, when users would receive an email from a campaign for the first time, they would get a “prominent” notification asking if they want to keep receiving them, and would still have the ability to opt out of subsequent emails.

Context: Campaign-related emails, a huge part of both Republican and Democratic fundraising operations, are often routed to email spam folders.

  • Google's Gmail was more likely to mark Republican fundraising emails as spam during the 2020 campaign, compared to Outlook and Yahoo (which are less popular email services), per a North Carolina State University study, Axios previously reported.
  • Gmail had said campaign emails ending up in spam was often due to users themselves flagging the messages as spam.

Meanwhile, Google CEO Sundar Pichai visited Capitol Hill last week and met with lawmakers, sources told Axios.

  • Topic discussions included the Republican email filtering bill, a tech antitrust bill making its way to the full Senate floor, USICA and privacy legislation.

What they're saying: “We want Gmail to provide a great experience for all of our users, including minimizing unwanted email, but we do not filter emails based on political affiliation," said Google spokesperson José Castañeda.

  • "We recently asked the FEC to authorize a pilot program that may help improve inboxing rates for political bulk senders and provide more transparency into email deliverability, while still letting users protect their inboxes by unsubscribing or labeling emails as spam. We look forward to exploring new ways to provide the best possible Gmail experience."
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