GOP Bill will try to stop Gmail from spamming campaign messages

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Republican senators plan to introduce legislation today to block email providers from automatically sending campaign messages to the spam filter, arguing it is a form of censorship.

US Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota) raised the issue at a press conference, saying(Opens in a new window) its legislation would “prosecute and prohibit” major email providers from “censoring or discriminating against political emails.”

How the bill works remains unclear. But Thune pointed the finger at Google’s Gmail service, citing a study(Opens in a new window) from North Carolina State University, which examined whether spam filters from major email providers were biased against political candidates’ campaign messages sent during the 2020 election.

The study found: “Gmail marked 59.3% more emails from good candidates as spam compared to left candidates, while Outlook and Yahoo marked 20.4% and 14.2% more. of emails from left candidates as spam compared to good candidates, respectively.”

Other Republican senators have also jumped up(Opens in a new window) on the study as evidence that Gmail is targeting GOP campaign emails. But ironically, the research authors say Republican lawmakers took their findings out of context.

One of the authors Told(Opens in a new window) The Washington Post their study found that Gmail’s spam filter bias decreases significantly once a user begins to manually mark and unmark emails as spam. Additionally, the study found no evidence that Google was considering trying to filter email messages to influence the 2020 election.

Importantly, the study noted that it is possible for users themselves to influence Gmail’s spam filtering algorithms by manually flagging certain campaign emails they receive as spam. As a result, Gmail may have filtered out more GOP emails during the 2020 election as many users grew tired of campaign email.

Google says users can play a major role in guiding its AI-powered Gmail spam filters. “User feedback, such as when a user marks a certain email as spam or wants a sender’s emails in their inbox, is key to this filtering process, and our filters learn from user actions”, it wrote(Opens in a new window) in a blog post last month defending its spam filtering approach against GOP criticism.

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Still, Thune said spam filtering bias could still prevent Republican lawmakers from reaching voters. “It’s a big deal. We need more transparency on these social media platforms, more accountability and we want to make sure they have to disclose their practices, and that they don’t discriminate against any political party or candidate. politics,” he said.

This is a point with which the study itself seems to agree. “It is imperative that email services check their SFAs (spam filtering algorithms) to ensure that all of the sender properties they take into account to determine whether a given email is spam or not are not unknowingly an advantage over one side to the other,” the authors write.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But in last month’s blog post, the company wrote that its spam filtering algorithms are ultimately designed to deliver the emails users want to see. “We will continue to explore ways to allow users to further personalize their spam filtering, while enabling bulk senders to better identify themselves and improve inbox deliverability,” the giant added. of technology.

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