Political Spam Coming to Gmail

John Lister's picture

Google is to test a plan to exempt political campaign messages from its spam filter. It says users will have a clear opportunity to opt out.

The move has proven unpopular with many people, particularly since users will need to opt out on a sender-by-sender basis. There won't be a simple way to opt out of all political emails.

Previously Google had labeled many campaign emails as spam because, well, that's what they often are. In many, if not most, cases people were receiving messages despite not explicitly giving permission for their address to be used in that way. The spam filter appeared to be a non-controversial way to deal with the unwanted messages as users could still find and read messages in their spam folder if they chose.

Bias Claims

Google is thought to have made the change to avoid a political row following a North Caroline State University study that suggested messages from Republican candidates were more likely to be sent into spam folders than those from Democrats. (Source: axios.com)

Google denied any bias and said the biggest reason for any disparity would simple be that users were more likely to have marked previous messages from specific senders as spam.

Rather than continue making that argument, Google decided to simply exempt messages from registered political candidates from its spam filter, as long as they meet security requirements. It ran the plan past the Federal Election Commission, which was satisfied it was a politically neutral approach.

One-Click Blocks Future Messages

Under the new system, the first message from a registered campaigns will include a prominent notification asking users if they want to carry on getting messages from the sender. If the user clicks on the "no" button, all future messages from that sender will go straight to the spam folder.

After that, marking any message from a particular sender as being spam will work as normal, while there will be a Google-inserted unsubscribe button. (Source: androidpolice.com)

Google will initially test the program between now and January on a limited number of emails before opening all registered campaign messages up to the "not spam by default" rule. That's very unfortunate timing as it raises the possibility that different parties or different campaigns will be affected by the test in different ways during the midterm campaigning season.

Even if the different effects are purely down to chance, it could create exactly the same impressions of bias that led to Google making the changes.

What's Your Opinion?

Is Google right to make this change? Do you believe it was biased in how it marked campaign mails as spam? Should it have an option to send all campaign messages to the spam folder?

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jpkirkpatrick_12469's picture

I have argued for a long time that SPAM filters need to be easier to set for the general public, such as, BLOCK MSG Y or N.
The problem with Political ads is that the Republicans and Democrats national committees will process a donation for a candidate and they automatically declare that donation as your opting in for all political campaigns. You can opt out of individual campaigns and they just roll your email over to another campaign with the same information. It is NEVER ENDING.

Earthlink eMail system has a feature that is available on their WEBMAIL program where you can mark an email, click on the SPAM feature and your can block the individual email senders address, or the domain for a broader block, or just mark it SPAM and it goes to the spam folder.

You get on one of the National Committees email lists and you virtually cannot get the political email to stop coming in.

Just my 2-cents worth...

Unrecognised's picture

The entire political campaigning clusterfuck needs to be demolished, ground into molecular fragments and vapourised.

1. publicly funded (and cheap)
3. EXTREMELY MINIMAL, stripped-back media bandwidth strictly allocated to be equitable for contenders. Identical media messages to be delivered across all media- every commercial medium, in every region.* No targeting allowed.
4. centralised internet campaign site with all contenders' messages in minimal identical format on same site, user-friendly, geo-appropriate (that is, with contenders' relevant names and electorate info accessible for user), with 'how-to-vote' instructions and other voter resources available.
5. transparent oversight body with teeth, officers subjected to psychometric testing (not foolproof, but least worst tool available).
7. Politician accountability; not delivering on pre-election promises a jailable offence, with political saboteurs liable.

*E.g. all major newspapers publish geo-appropriate 2 or however many pages with identical space given to contenders in print- no photos allowed. Public debates on a stripped-back publicly funded TV channel.

I'd love to ban all their social signalling too- no hairdos, posturing/body language, symbolic ties etc. The populace needs to unlearn tribalism and vote for the jobs that will be done, and how.

matt_2058's picture

And once elected...

9. NO retirement plan, just a paycheck inline with average citizens' pay.
10. Very harsh penalties AND jail for corruption, bribes, etc.

matt_2058's picture

The worst part is that a candidate, or elected official, shares the contact list. I contacted my Representative about an issue. Of course, the reply I received was that he doesn't have any authority over the issue. He's a US Representative and votes on issues in Congress, so I didn't get it. His staff wouldn't explain so I let it go, now knowing he's useless.

I started getting his emailed newsletter even though I didn't ask for it. Then I started getting the party's emails for other candidate races I could vote on.

Unsubscribing hasn't worked, so this initiative would work well for me.