Google has decided to shut down a pilot program that allowed political groups to bypass its spam filters, according to a report by The Washington Post. The program, which was launched in September 2021, was created in response to Republican accusations that Google’s algorithms disproportionately flagged 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.
However, the program did not go far enough to address the concerns of the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). 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.
“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,” said José Castañeda, a Google spokesperson, in a statement to The Verge.
The RNC and NRSC’s concerns were reignited during the 2022 election cycle, when an academic study found that Google’s email service, Gmail, flagged GOP fundraising emails as spam more often than those from Democratic senders. For officials at the RNC and NRSC, the study explained why GOP candidates were often struggling to fundraise more money than their Democratic opponents last year.
However, the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) 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, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Google is now seeking to dismiss the RNC’s October lawsuit, according to Monday night filings first reported by Axios. “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 referring to the RNC lawsuit.
The decision to end the program comes as a surprise, as Google had previously defended the program as a way to address bias concerns from Republican fundraisers. However, it is clear that the program did not go far enough to address the RNC and NRSC’s concerns. It remains to be seen how this decision will affect the RNC’s lawsuit against Google and the ongoing debate over tech censorship.