Jan 24, 2023 - Technology

Scoop: Google seeks end to RNC email drama

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

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Google is seeking to dismiss a lawsuit from the Republican National Committee accusing the tech giant of bias in its handling of email, as it ends a pilot program that allowed senders of campaign emails to bypass users' spam folders, per a filing seen by Axios.

Why it matters: Conservatives remain angry with Google, which they believe has unfairly marked their campaign messages as spam, and they now control one house of Congress.

Driving the news: Google's motion to dismiss was filed in federal court in the Eastern District of California on Monday night. The RNC "seeks to blame Google based on a theory or political bias that is both illogical and contrary to the facts alleged in its own complaint," lawyers for Google write in the filing.

  • Last week, the Federal Elections Commission told Google in a letter that it was dismissing a complaint from the Republican National Committee that the Gmail app helped out Democratic candidates by filtering fewer of its emails to spam.
  • Last October, the RNC filed suit against Google for "blatant bias" against Republicans, claiming that Gmail sent end-of-the-month get out the vote and fundraising emails to spam without explaining why for ten months in a row.

What they're saying: "As the FEC’s recent bipartisan decision confirmed, we don't filter emails for political purposes and like the FEC complaint, this suit is without merit," said José Castañeda, a Google spokesperson, in a statement.

  • "We will keep investing in spam-filtering technologies that protect people from unwanted messages while still allowing senders to reach inboxes of users who want to see those messages," Castañeda said.

Flashback: Google asked the FEC last June if a program that would let campaign 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 last August. The RNC criticized the program, saying it didn't go far enough.
  • GOP anger comes 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.

What's next: Google's pilot email program, which saw more than 100 political committees participate, will end Jan. 31, and the company is evaluating next steps.

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