Google requested an advisory opinion from the Federal Election Commission on the prospective launch of a pilot program that would allow political organizations to escape spam filters and instead distribute political emails to Gmail users’ primary inboxes.
During a public comment period that is still open, most commenters have expressed strong objection for a variety of reasons that they hope the FEC will consider.
Only two commentators supported Google’s experimental program, which aims to transmit more unsolicited political emails to Gmail users rather than labeling them as spam, as of July 11. The rest of the comments were against the initiative, citing a variety of issues, including the policy’s ability to impair user experience, raise security threats, and even unjustly influence future elections.
According to a report, the opportunity for public commenting closes on Saturday, July 16, which is later than the initial deadline of July 11, as stated in contradicting reports. That means there’s still time for more Gmail users and others to weigh in.
Top issues raised by Gmail users
The extra five days to comment may not seem like much, but at the very least, the tiny extension provides an opportunity to individuals who are unaware of Google’s proposal.
Though many Gmail users have already spoken in, the majority of them have listed their top concerns and urged the FEC to share their disapproval of the pilot scheme.
Some commentators who disagree with the proposal argue that it will put undue strain on the Gmail user experience. In other words, people don’t want emails that they didn’t sign up for to arrive in their inbox. Users who felt politicians didn’t deserve special treatment by being exempt from the spam bin threatened to leave Gmail if political communications were moved to the main inbox.
Others were more concerned about apparent government overreach. If the FEC approves, politicians would be permitted to avoid Gmail spam filters, similar to an exemption to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act that permits politicians to bypass do-not-call lists. Commenters expressed concern that this could lead to even more misinformation spreading. Other comments expressed concern that the action could pose security problems. One commenter envisioned criminal actors registering to run for office, becoming exempt from spam filters, and positioning themselves to defraud naive people who rely on Google to screen out hazardous content.
A few commenters recommended that the FEC should enhance regulations on political communications rather than expose citizens to even more blatant political advertising.
For some commenters, the worst-case scenario is a future in which political spam delivered to primary inboxes influences elections. Some critics were concerned that Google’s apparent liberal political bias will affect Gmail users by delivering emails from Democrats to the primary inbox while still flagging Republican communications as spam.
Commenters pointed out that this measure only shifts the burden of marking political messages as spam back onto the user. Giving the user choice over what arrives in their email, according to one commenter, sounded like a good thing. Another, though, stated that the volume of political emails that could soon be arriving in inboxes was even another reason to strongly reject. Nobody has time to go through dozens, much alone hundreds or thousands, of emails and label them as spam.
The single other respondent in favor of the plan suggested that Gmail’s long-standing practice of redirecting political communications to spam posed a threat to free expression. By sending political emails to the principal inbox, it assures that all messages are distributed equally. Another commentator, however, claimed that by sending more political emails to inboxes, Gmail may encourage apathy toward politics rather than supporting Gmail users’ engagement with all political perspectives.