Google to shut down spam backdoor for political campaigns

Google launched the program last September in response to Republican accusations that the company’s algorithms disproportionately flag conservative fundraising emails as spam. The program allowed candidates, political party committees, and leadership political action committees to sign up with Google to make their messages exempt from the company’s spam detection systems. 

“We will keep investing in spam-filtering technologies that protect people from unwanted messages while still allowing senders to reach the inboxes of users who want to see those messages,” José Castañeda, a Google spokesperson, said in a statement to The Verge on Tuesday.

Throughout the 2022 election cycle, Republican anger over tech censorship was reignited by an academic study that found Google’s email service, Gmail, flagged GOP fundraising emails as spam more often than those from Democratic senders. For officials at the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the study explained why GOP candidates were often struggling to fundraise more money than their Democratic opponents last year. 

The pilot program was part of Google’s plan to address these Republican fundraising concerns. But the RNC and NRSC argued that the program did not go far enough in addressing their issues. Nearly a month after the program’s launch, Verge reporting found that the RNC did not sign up for the program. In October, the RNC sued Google over this alleged bias against Republicans, claiming that the company’s spam filters directly hurt GOP fundraising. 

“Enough is enough — we are suing Google for their blatant bias against Republicans,” RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement announcing the lawsuit last October. “We are committed to putting an end to this clear pattern of bias.”

Earlier this month, the Federal Elections Commission dismissed a similar Republican-led complaint over Google’s spam filters. In a January FEC letter to Google, the commission “found no reason to believe” that Gmail’s filtering systems amounted to in-kind corporate contributions to Democrats, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“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,” Castañeda said in a statement on Tuesday referring to the RNC lawsuit.

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