Google Will No Longer Protect Political Emails From Gmail Spam Filters

Google has just decided to end a pilot program that perhaps may have given political campaigns an edge — as long as they signed up to be part of it. The pilot, which started in 2022, was Google's response to a complaint filed by the Republican National Committee. While it doesn't seem that the RNC has changed its mind on the problem, Google has still decided to sunset the program — and for regular users, it might be for the best.

Everything started when the RNC filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. The complaint claimed that Google was filtering out some of the emails sent out by the RNC due to its political affiliation. These complaints might stem from the party's online fundraising efforts, which proved to be relatively disappointing in the summer of 2022. To back up the claim, GOP cited a study from North Carolina State University that stated that 77 percent of right-leaning political emails were sent straight to spam in Gmail, while only 10 percent of left-leaning emails received that same treatment.

Unsurprisingly, Google doesn't agree with this portrayal of the situation. As quoted by The Washington Post, Google said: "The RNC is wrong. Gmail's spam filtering policies apply equally to emails from all senders, whether they are politically affiliated or not. [...] Indeed, effective spam filtering is a key feature of Gmail, and one of the main reasons why Gmail is so popular." 

Google disagrees with the RNC

The RNC filed the complaint in October 2022, and Google responded quickly, undermining the data found in the study. According to the company, the Gmail spam filter relies on other things, completely unrelated to political affiliation. This includes how often emails are sent and the way the users interact with them. Ultimately, most of us receive dozens of spam emails every week (if not on a daily basis) and the algorithm used by Gmail learns from the way these emails are handled.

Despite the fact that Google disagreed with the GOP, it still asked the Federal Election Commission for permission to start out a pilot program. This program allows all political campaigns and committees, regardless of whether they are left-leaning or right-leaning, to ignore Gmail's spam filters. This could potentially allow these committees to reach more users with their email campaigns. While many disagreed with the idea behind the program, the FEC gave its approval, and Google started the pilot. More than 100 committees were part of it — interestingly, the RNC didn't participate.

Ultimately, Google decided to sunset the program starting at the end of January. The FEC dismissed GOP's complaint filed against Google, and as The Washington Post reports, that dismissal combined with Google's stalwart defense of its spam filter resulted in the trial run coming to an end. From now on, emails from political campaigns and committees will be filtered by Gmail's spam filter the same way they always were before.