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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Spam Warning: Google Asks Feds for Permission to Fill Inboxes with Campaign Emails

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There just aren’t many good campaign email stock images, so enjoy this spam instead.
A photo: David McNew / Staff (Getty Images)

After years of dissatisfaction with Republicans in Congress, Google has demanded that the Federal Election Commission allow a pilot program that would free political campaign email from spam filtering.

The new program will allow emails from “authorized candidate committees, political party committees and political action steering committees registered with the FEC” to bypass Gmail’s spam categorization system, the filing says. That is, as long as those messages do not violate other platform policies regarding phishing, malware, or illegal activity.

It looks like Google is trying to get ahead of the proposed bill. South Dakota Senator John Thune and 25 other Republican MPs are represented. Act June 16, with the aim of making it “illegal for an email service provider to use a filtering algorithm to apply a label to an email sent to an email account as part of a political campaign, unless the owner or user of the account has taken action to apply such label.”


Instead of being filtered by Gmail’s spam filter, all eligible political emails are sent directly to users’ inboxes. From there, users will get a “noticeable” push to either continue receiving emails from the same sender or opt out, as per the application.

The FEC application was first received according to Axios. In a statement emailed to Gizmodo, Google spokesman Jose Castañeda confirmed FEC’s request and wrote:

We want Gmail to be a great experience for all of our users, including minimizing spam, but we do not filter emails based on political affiliation. We recently asked the FEC to authorize a pilot program that can help increase inbound rates for political bulk senders and provide greater transparency in email delivery, while still allowing users to protect their mailboxes by unsubscribing or marking emails as spam. We’re looking forward to new ways to make Gmail as user-friendly as possible.

The expected experimental policy comes after years of disagreement between the company and Republicans in Congress over the alleged political bias of Gmail’s spam filters.

Back in 2020, Florida Rep. Greg Steube appeared at a congressional hearing on tech monopolies to complain about his parents not seeing his campaign emails. “Suddenly I was elected to Congress and now I’m here in Washington DC and my parents who have a Gmail account are not receiving emails about my campaign” Steube stated. “Why does this only happen to Republicans?” – he asked.

Recently, March study fuel was added to the fire by a member of the Computer Science Department at North Carolina State University. Researchers in the study found that campaign and fundraising emails from conservative groups and candidates were more likely to end up in the spam folders of Gmail users ahead of the 2020 election than emails from liberal or left-wing sources. The researchers found the opposite trend among users’ Yahoo and Outlook mailboxes.


GOP politicians such as Texas Rep. Ronnie Jackson interpreted the study to mean that conservative campaigns were deliberately and unfairly targeted at Google.


However, the researchers specifically wrote in this study that their observations do not mean that Google is deliberately poisoning its spam filter with policies. Instead, they suggested that the observed bias could be the result of how Google and others evaluate past user behavior in their analysis of what is spam and what is not. In other words: conservative emails were likely to be spammed more often because Gmail users had previously flagged similar emails from similar sources as spam.

Google has also repeatedly confirmed this. In May, General Counsel Kent Walker met with Republican senators and told them that there was no bias in the way Gmail handled spam.

“Mail classifications automatically change according to user preferences and actions. For example, users can unflag spam, move messages to a different category, or turn categories on or off. Over time, the classifications change in accordance with these amendments,” he said. Google in explanation its classification system.


In another statement for MashableA Google spokesperson also said that “political affiliation has absolutely nothing to do with the classification of mail in Gmail, and we have debunked this assumption, which has periodically popped up from across the political spectrum over the years.”

It is also possible that right-wing politicians are reducing their chances of accessing the primary mailbox due to spam tactics. Donald Trump even got a fluke from the inside his own party for a hyper-aggressive, misleading fundraising emails. However, despite the above, conservative politicians continue their anti-spam crusade.


Republican MPs took to Twitter to express their support for the bill. “I’m working to hold Big Tech accountable” tweeted Iowa Senator Joni Ernst. Rep. Kevin McCarthy from California wrote: “Big tech has proven to be bad actors. Time to fight back.” Thune himself wrote that Gmail’s spam filtering is “unacceptable and anti-democratic.”


Google’s efforts may not be enough for Republicans. “Consumers want a long-term transparent solution that Senator Thun’s bill will provide,” a spokesman for the senator said. to the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have a different opinion. “It’s sad that instead of just stopping spamming emails, Republicans have embarked on a campaign of unfair pressure,” Daniel Wessel, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, told the Post. “And it’s even more unfortunate that Google bought it.”


Author: Lauren Leffer

Source: Gizmodo

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