Aug 11, 2022 - Technology

FEC OKs Google plan to keep campaign emails out of spam folders

Google logo with a spotlight on part of it

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The Federal Election Commission voted 4-1 Thursday to approve a Google pilot program that would keep campaign emails out from automatically going to Gmail's spam folders, unless a user directs them there themselves.

The big picture: The program was roundly panned by FEC commenters begging the commission not to open up their email inboxes to even more spam. Now Google has to decide whether to go ahead with it.

Catch up quick: Early this summer, Google asked the Federal Election Commission to greenlight a program that could keep campaign emails from ending up in spam folders, responding to backlash from Republican leaders who accused Gmail of being biased, Axios previously reported.

  • In June, Republican leadership introduced a bill 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.

What's happening: Google in June asked the commission to rule on whether its plan would be considered a sort of contribution to political campaigns, as Axios reported.

  • The FEC's draft answer says it would be lawful for Google to offer the pilot program to eligible participants. The commission voted to adopt this draft, giving Google the green light to roll it out, though the company could still decide not to.

Between the lines: Google's effort is motivated by accusations of bias from Republicans, who hold that the company's Gmail service disproportionately marks their campaign emails as spam.

  • During today's FEC meeting, Commissioner James Trainor referenced a North Carolina State University study Republican leaders in Congress have pointed to as proof that Gmail filters out GOP campaign emails more often than others.
  • Claire Rajan, the lawyer representing Google before the FEC, said that the authors of that study have said its conclusions have been misstated. She claimed the tech giant pursued the program because "Google is constantly iterating, and looking at ways to improve all of its products, including Gmail."

What they're saying: "We appreciate the FEC’s speedy review of our request and we will reflect on the positive and negative feedback received during the public comment period," José Castañeda, Google Spokesperson. 

  • "Our goal during this pilot program is to assess alternative ways of addressing concerns from bulk senders, while giving users clear controls over their inboxes to minimize unwanted email."
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