Republican Committee Sues Google Over Email Spam Filters

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The Republican National Committee has filed a lawsuit against tech giant Google, alleging the company suppressed its email solicitations ahead of November’s midterm elections — a claim Google denies.

The lawsuit, filed in the District Court for the Eastern District of California on Friday night, accuses Gmail of “discriminating” against the RNC by unfairly sending the group’s emails to users’ spam folders, affecting both fundraising and getting out of the vote. in pivotal swing modes.

“Enough is enough — we’re suing Google for their blatant bias against Republicans,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement to The Associated Press. “For ten straight months, Google has sent important Republican GOTV emails and end-of-the-month fundraising emails to spam without any explanation. We are committed to putting an end to this clear pattern of bias.”

In a statement, Google denied the allegations. “As we have repeatedly said, we simply do not filter e-mails based on political affiliation. Gmail’s spam filters reflect users’ actions,” said spokesman José Castañeda, adding that the company provides training and guidelines for campaigns and works to “maximize email deliverability while minimizing unwanted spam.”

The lawsuit focuses on how Google’s Gmail, the world’s largest email service with about 1.5 billion users, screens requests and other material to help prevent users from being inundated with junk mail. To try to filter material that account holders might not want in their inboxes, Google and other major email providers create programs that mark communications that are likely to be perceived as unwelcome and move them to spam folders that typically rarely if ever read by recipients.

The suit says that Google “en massely directed millions of RNC emails to potential donors’ and supporters’ spam folders during key points of election fundraising and community building” — particularly at the end of each month, when political groups tend to send more messages. “It doesn’t matter if the email is about a donation, poll or community outreach. And it doesn’t matter if the emails are sent to people who asked for them,” it reads.

Google claims that its algorithms are designated to be neutral, but a study published in March of North Carolina State University found that Gmail was far more likely to block messages for conservative reasons. The study, based on emails sent during the 2020 US presidential campaign, estimated that Gmail placed about 10% of emails from “left-leaning” candidates into spam folders, while 77% from “right-leaning” candidates were marked as spam.

Gmail rivals Yahoo and Microsoft’s Outlook were more likely to favor pitches for conservative causes than Gmail, the study found.

The RNC seized on that investigation in April to urge the Federal Election Commission to investigate Google’s “censorship” of its fundraising efforts, which it claimed amounted to an in-kind contribution to Democratic candidates and served as “an economically devastating example of Silicon Valley tech companies unfairly shaping the political playing field to benefit their favored fringes left wing. candidates.”

Since then, the commission has approved a pilot program that creates a way for political committees to bypass spam filters so that their fundraising emails find their way into recipients’ primary inboxes. Gmail participates in the “Verified Sender Program, ” which allows senders to bypass traditional spam filters, but also allows users to unsubscribe a sender. Pressing the unsubscribe button will require a sender to remove this Gmail address from their distribution lists.

As of Friday night, the RNC had not signed up to participate in the pilot program.

Republicans, trying to cast doubt on the outcome of the 2020 election without leaving behind the most extreme and baseless allegations of corrupt voting machines and stolen votes, have often tried to blame big tech companies like Twitter and Facebook, which they claim were biased against in the past President Donald Trump. A host of state and local election officials, courts and members of Trump’s own administration have said there is no evidence of the mass fraud Trump alleges.

___ Colvin reported from Akron, Ohio.

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