The Republican National Committee (RNC) has filed a lawsuit alleging that Gmail has dumped its emails into spam folders, throttling the party’s email campaigns as the midterm elections
It's not clear whether this is a serious legal challenge, or merely a political stunt.
Previously, the GOP complained to the Federal Election that Gmail was censoring party emails following an academic report showing what appeared to be unintentional bias in the spam filter algorithms of several major email services.
However, this complaint does provide what seems to be a detailed look into the alleged discrimination. If this gets to the trial stage, one can assume that judges’ eyes will glaze over as they attempt to understand the email delivery business.
For their benefit, the complaint explains that the spam folder’s purpose is to “conceal from users unrequested and unwanted messages from unknown senders.”
It adds: “This obviously does not apply to the RNC’s emails to its supporters, who have requested to receive the emails. Yet Google sends these emails to spam anyway.”
The case primarily concerns RNC activity in CalifTornia, which has "the most registered Republicans" and is first in donations raised in 2022. The case is on file with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.
Event emails have been pouring into the spam folder, the RNC argues.
Google’s “most egregious discrimination” began in February of this year, as the GOP began gearing up for 2022 mid-terms, the complaint ccontends.
Gmail “inboxing” dropped from rates that were consistently above 90% to “nearly 0% on certain days during the last week of each month,” it adds.
"The end of the month is typically 'the most effective and important period for these transactions between the RNC and its supporters,' the GOP asserts,” the RNC states. Yet at “approximately the same time at the end of each month, Google sends to spam nearly all of the RNC’s emails.
The RNC works with Validity’s Everest tool to determine inbox delivery.
On February 14, the RNC conducted an “A/B test,” creating two versions of an email whose contents were identical, except that the two versions had links to different variants of an RNC donation page.
The RNC then selected two groups of recipients — Group X and Group Y, with no overlap.
On February 14, the RNC conducted an internal test called the “A/B test.” For this test, the RNC created two versions of an email whose contents were identical — except that Version A and Version B had links to different variants of an RNC donation page.
“Version A inboxed at the normal rate, while Version B inboxed at a rate of approximately 0% (i.e., Version B went entirely to spam, while Version A didn’t),” the complaint says..
The GOP then followed up with another test, again with no overlap. The result: “An entire batch of one version of the email went to spam, while the other did not,” the GOP asserts.
From this, the GOP concludes that “Google is not suppressing RNC emails based on their communicative content” (i.e., presumably hateful material).
The RNC claims it has been working with Google on the problem on and off for months. Google denies the allegations in the complaint.
“As we have repeatedly said, we simply don’t filter emails based on political affiliation,” said Google spokesperson José Castañeda, according to The New York Post. “Gmail’s spam filters reflect users’ actions.”
The party has asked the court for injunctive relief and for a ruling that the “policies and practices complained of are unlawful under state and federal law.” In addition, it seeks damages and attorneys’ fees.
Gmail marks 67.5% of email from the right as spam -- versus only 10.2% of those from the left -- according to “A Peek into the Political Biases in Email Spam Filtering Algorithms During US Election 2020,” a study from North Carolina State University.
Outlook is unfriendly to all campaign emails, marking 95.8% those from the left as spam versus 75.4% from the right, the same study reports.
Yahoo marks 14.2% more left-wing emails as spam than right-wing, while designating 55.2% of political emails as spam.
The study notes that “”we have no reason to believe that there were deliberate attempts from these email services to create these biases to influence the voters.”
Although the technology was different, this type of purported bias was seen in the 19th century when Western Union "repeatedly discriminated against certain political speech, like strike-related telegraphs," and sought to "promote the election of the candidates their directors favored," the complaint reports. States passed laws requiring that "common carriers" transmit messages in a non-discriminatory manner.