Oct 21, 2022 - Technology

Scoop: RNC sues Google claiming spam filter blocks email

Illustration of the Google logo with scales of justice as the double o's.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Republican National Committee (RNC) has filed a lawsuit against Google in a U.S. district court in California for allegedly putting its campaign emails in the spam folders of its millions of users.

Why it matters: Google last month launched a pilot program to keep campaign emails out of spam. But the RNC has been criticizing the program, arguing it doesn't help enough with political email filtering.

The lawsuit alleges that Google "has relegated millions of RNC emails en masse to potential donors’ and supporters’ spam folders during pivotal points in election fundraising and community building."

  • "The timing of Google’s most egregious filtering is particularly damning," the RNC asserts.
  • "For most of each month, nearly all of the RNC’s emails make it into users’ inboxes. At approximately the same time at the end of each month, Google sends to spam nearly all of the RNC’s emails. Critically, and suspiciously, this end of the month period is historically when the RNC’s fundraising is most successful."

The other side: “As we have repeatedly said, we simply don't filter emails based on political affiliation," said Google spokesperson José Castañeda.

  • "Gmail’s spam filters reflect users’ actions. We provide training and guidelines to campaigns, we recently launched an FEC-approved pilot for political senders, and we continue to work to maximize email deliverability while minimizing unwanted spam.”

Details: The RNC argues in the lawsuit that despite discussing the email issue with Google for more than nine months, it remains unresolved, alleging Google is sending emails to spam on purpose due to political bias.

Of note: The RNC is not enrolled in Google's email pilot program meant to alleviate these issues, per a source familiar with the situation.

Flashback: The GOP's ire about emails is partly based on a study from North Carolina State University finding Republican emails being sent to spam by Gmail more often than others, though its authors say its findings have been misconstrued.

  • Republican leadership also previously 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.

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.

The big picture: The lawsuit, filed during the midterm election season, is part of a greater effort by the Republican Party to target technology companies for what they feel is wrongful bias against their party online.

  • Last year, former President Trump announced class action lawsuits against companies like Facebook and Twitter.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with more details.

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