In the latest development in the ongoing dispute between Google and the Republican National Committee (RNC), Google has announced its decision to discontinue its pilot program that allowed political campaigns to bypass its email spam filters. The technology giant introduced the program after the RNC blamed Gmail‘s spam filters for the party’s poor fundraising performance in the summer of 2022. However, Google has now stated that it will let the program end on January 31st and will not prolong it further.
In a filing to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, Google’s lawyers stated that the RNC’s accusations of the company “throttling its email messages because of the RNC’s political affiliation and views” are wrong. Google argued that “Gmail‘s spam filtering policies apply equally to emails from all senders, whether they are politically affiliated or not.”
The RNC’s complaint, filed in October 2022, made it clear that the pilot program had failed to allay GOP criticism of the company’s spam filters. This criticism had mounted last summer amid the party’s disappointing online fundraising performance. GOP lawmakers and campaign groups blamed Gmail‘s technology and cited a study by computer science researchers at North Carolina State University that claimed to have found that Gmail sent 77 percent of right-leaning candidate emails to spam, compared with 10 percent of left-leaning candidate emails. Google maintained that the study was flawed and that other factors, such as the frequency of emails and the way users respond to them, inform the way its automated filters work.
Despite rejecting the GOP’s attacks, Google still decided to bow to them and asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to approve the pilot program, which was available to all campaigns and political committees registered with the federal regulator. The company had anticipated at the time that the trial run would last through January 2023.
However, thousands of public comments implored the FEC to advise against the program, with consumer advocates and other individuals stating that it would overwhelm Gmail users with spam. Anne P. Mitchell, a lawyer and founder of an email certification service called Get to the Inbox, wrote that Google was “opening up the floodgates to their users’ inboxes … to assuage partisan disgruntlement.”
Despite the criticisms, the FEC gave its approval in August 2022, with one Democrat joining the commission’s three Republicans to clear the way for the initiative. Ultimately, more than 100 committees of both parties signed up for the program, according to Google spokesman José Castañeda. However, the RNC was not one of them, as Google emphasized in its motion to dismiss in the federal case in California.
In addition to the federal lawsuit, the RNC and other GOP campaign groups also brought a complaint before the FEC arguing that Gmail‘s spam filters disproportionately flagged GOP fundraising emails in a way that amounted to a prohibited in-kind contribution to Democrats. The regulator informed Google this month that it had found no reason to believe that the company had breached campaign-finance law.
In conclusion, Google’s filing on Monday mounted a rigorous defense of the company’s spam technology and argued that ending the pilot program would be in the best interest of Gmail users. The filing stated, “Indeed, effective spam filtering is a key feature of Gmail, and one of the main reasons why Gmail is so popular.” With this announcement, Google is putting an end to the dispute with the RNC over the program and focusing on providing the best email experience for its users.