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Google wants Gmail spam filters to spare political campaign emails

Gmail in light mode on Pixel 6 Pro
Gmail app (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Google has asked the Federal Election Commission to approve a pilot program that will spare political campaign emails from Gmail's spam filter.
  • The exemption will apply to emails sent by authorized candidate committees, political party committees, and leadership political action committees.
  • Gmail users will still have the final say whether or not they want to continue receiving this type of email.

Google recently came under fire (opens in new tab) for allegedly disproportionately filtering Republican campaign emails sent through Gmail. The company now wants to address that by pushing for a new program that aims to exempt such emails from its spam filters.

According to a filing seen by Axios (opens in new tab), Google has asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to approve its pilot program meant to keep political campaign emails out of spam folders, unless users choose otherwise. That said, Gmail's restrictions and policies remain in effect.

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

Furthermore, 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 receiving such emails.

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

The filing appears to be Google's response to previous complaints from the Republican party accusing it of unfairly flagging more of GOP campaign emails than those of the Democratic party. This was in line with a North Carolina State University study (opens in new tab), which found that Gmail's algorithmic spam detection was more likely than Yahoo and Microsoft Outlook to mark emails from Republican campaigns as spam during the 2020 campaign.

As a result, Republican lawmakers introduced a bill this month to address what they described as "biased algorithms." The Political BIAS Emails Act (opens in new tab) will require Google and other platforms to explain how they filter emails to spam folders. More importantly, the bill seeks to make it illegal to flag campaign emails as spam by default.

Last month, Google refuted Republicans' claims in a blog post (opens in new tab), which explained how Gmail's spam filters work.

"These filters look at a variety of signals, including characteristics of the IP address, domains/subdomains, whether bulk senders are authenticated, and user input," Neil Kumaran, Google's group product manager for Gmail security and trust, wrote. "User feedback, such as when a user marks a certain email as spam or signals they want a sender’s emails in their inbox, is key to this filtering process, and our filters learn from user actions."

Google spokesperson José Castañeda echoed this in a statement to Axios: "We want Gmail to provide a great experience for all of our users, including minimizing unwanted email, but we do not filter emails based on political affiliation."

Jay Bonggolto
Jay Bonggolto

Jay Bonggolto always keeps a nose for news. He has been writing about consumer tech and apps for as long as he can remember, and he has used a variety of Android phones since falling in love with Jelly Bean. Send him a direct message via Twitter or LinkedIn.