Sep 19, 2022 - Technology

Exclusive: Gmail launches pilot to keep campaign emails out of spam

Illustration of Google "G" symbol with spotlight on it but only partially

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Google is launching a pilot program to keep emails from political campaigns from going to users' spam folders this week, the company told Axios.

Why it matters: Gmail users may start seeing a lot more political emails in their inboxes, partly a result of Google bowing to pressure from conservatives who claimed the company marked Republican emails as spam more often than others.

What's happening: Google asked the Federal Election Commission in June if a program that would let campaigns emails bypass spam filters, instead giving users the option to move them to spam first, would be legal under campaign finance laws.

  • Despite hundreds of negative comments submitted to the FEC arguing against it, the FEC approved the program in August. Eligible committees, abiding by security requirements and best practices as outlined by Google, can now register to participate.

Between the lines: 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.

What they're saying: "We expect to begin the pilot with a small number of campaigns from both parties and will test whether these changes improve the user experience, and provide more certainty for senders during this election period," José Castañeda, a Google spokesperson, told Axios. "We will continue to listen and respond to feedback as the pilot progresses."

  • "During the pilot, users will be in control through a more prominent unsubscribe button," he said.

How it works: Once political campaigns are enrolled in Google’s pilot program, they will no longer be affected by Gmail’s standard forms of spam detection, though Gmail will keep scanning messages for phishing and malware.

  • Users will see a banner on the first email from participants in the program, asking if they want to keep seeing the messages, unsubscribe or report as spam.

Context: Online political fundraising has been a roller coaster for both parties in the past few months ahead of the midterms. Reaching potential donors via email is seen as highly important for fundraising.

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