The flap over Gmail’s alleged bias against Republican emails may be closer to resolution.
Google has devised a program to prevent political emails from hitting spam folders, and has asked the Federal Election Commission for permission to implement it, according to a report by Axios.
Political campaigns would “not be affected by forms of spam detection to which they would otherwise be subject” providing they adhere to Gmail rules regarding malware and indecency. Also, first-time recipients would receive a notification asking for permission to keep mailing them.
Another provision would allow senders to “receive information about the rate at which their emails are delivered into Gmail users’ inboxes as opposed to spam folder,” according to The Washington Post.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai laid the plan out when meeting with politicos last week, according to reports. Google confirmed to the Post that it had “recently asked the FEC to authorize a pilot program that may help improve inboxing rates for political bulk senders and provide more transparency into email deliverability.”
Earlier this month, several GOP senators introduced the Political Bias in Algorithm Sorting (BIAS) Emails Act, a bill to “prohibit providers of email services from using filtering algorithms to flag emails from political campaigns that consumers have elected to receive as spam.”
In essence, this plan provides political email senders with a pass to evade the reputational standards expected of businesses — at a time when Republicans and Democrats alike are being criticized for their fundraising barrages.
If commercial brands send too many unopened emails and fail to clean their list, their emails could end up in spam folders, while inboxes are filled with campaign emails -- many of them thinly disguised efforts to drive political ecommerce.
The.alleged algorithmic bias was described in “A Peek into the Political Biases in Email Spam Filtering Algorithms During US Election 2020,” a study from North Carolina State University. The authors later denied GOP claims of Gmail bias against conservatives.
They found that Gmail marks 67.5% of emails from the right (i.e., Republican candidates) as spam, compared to 8.2% from the left.
Gmail marked only 10.12% of the left-wing emails as spam, while up to 77.2% ended up in the spam box.
In contrast, Outlook is unfriendly to all campaign emails, marking 95.8% those from the left as spam versus 75.4% from the right.
Yahoo marks 14.2% more left-wing emails as spam than right-wing emails, while designating 55.2% of political emails as spam, while Outlook filtered out over 71.8%.
“While we have no reason to believe that there were deliberate attempts from these email services to create these biases to influence the voters, the fact remains there that their SFAs have learnt to mark more emails from one political affiliation as spam compared to the other,” the authors write.