Google wants Gmail’s spam filters to spare political campaign emails

Google recently came under fire for allegedly disproportionately filtering campaign emails sent by Gmail. The company now wants to remedy this situation by implementing a new program to exempt these emails from its spam filters.

Google has asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to approve its pilot program to block political campaign emails from entering spam folders unless users decide otherwise. That said, Gmail’s restrictions and policies still apply.

The spam exemption will be applied to emails sent by “authorized candidate committees, political party committees, and executive political action committees registered with the FEC.” However, they must follow Gmail’s policies on phishing, malware, and illegal content.

Users will have the final say on whether or not they want to continue receiving political campaign emails. The program is designed to display a notification to users the first time a campaign email arrives in their inbox. They will be asked if they want to continue to receive such emails.

The program is expected to flood your inbox with campaign emails from various political parties. Either way, the opt-out feature will help reduce unwanted emails.

The news appears to be Google’s response to earlier complaints from the Republican Party accusing it of unfairly flagging more campaign emails from the Republican Party than from the Democratic Party. These complaints were consistent with a study by North Carolina State University, which found that Gmail’s algorithmic spam detection was more likely than yahoo and Microsoft Outlook to mark Republican campaign emails as spam during the 2020 campaign.

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As a result, Republican lawmakers introduced a bill this month to combat what they describe as “biased algorithms.” The Political BIAS Emails Act will require Google and other platforms to explain how they filter emails to spam folders. More importantly, the bill aims to make it illegal to mark campaign emails as spam by default.

Last month, Google refuted the Republicans’ claims in a blog post, which explained how Gmail’s spam filters work.

“These filters look at a variety of signals, including IP address characteristics, domains/subdomains, bulk sender authentication, and user feedback”writes Neil Kumaran, Google Group Product Manager for Gmail Security and Trust. “User feedback, such as when a user marks a certain email as spam or wants a sender’s emails in their inbox, is critical to this filtering process, and our filters learn from the actions of users. »

Google spokesperson José Castañeda echoed those comments in a statement to Axios: “We want Gmail to provide a great experience for all of our users, including minimizing spam, but we don’t filter emails based on political affiliation. »

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