FEC rejects RNC complaint that Google’s spam filters were biased against conservatives | CNN Business
The Federal Election Commission has rejected claims by the Republican National Committee that Google’s Gmail spam filters are illegally biased against conservatives, according to a letter from the agency obtained by CNN.
The decision resolves a joint FEC complaint filed last year led by the RNC that alleged Gmail’s automated filters sent Republican fundraising emails to spam at a higher rate than those of Democratic candidates during the cycle 2020 election. The RNC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The FEC’s decision to dismiss the complaint and close the case is the latest defeat for Republicans who have tried multiple times to apply the agency’s powers against tech platforms over accusations of anti-conservative bias. In 2021, the FEC dismissed a similar claim by the RNC against Twitter over the company’s decision to temporarily suppress New York Post reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop, saying the content moderation decision appeared to have been made “for a valid business reason”.
The FEC took the same position on the Gmail filtering issue in a letter to Google last week that the company provided to CNN on Wednesday.
In the Jan. 11 letter, the FEC said its review “found no reason to believe that [Google] made prohibited in-kind corporate contributions” to Democrats in the form of more favorable email filtering treatment.
In order for it to be considered a violation, the FEC wrote, “a contribution must be made for the purpose of influencing an election for federal office,” adding that Google’s public statements have made clear that its spam filtering exists “for commercial, rather than electoral, purposes.”
Even if it were true that Gmail’s spam filtering favored Democratic campaigns over Republican ones, the FEC wrote, an allegation the commission neither endorsed nor explicitly rejected, that the result would not necessarily would make Gmail’s underlying conduct an illegal campaign contribution.
In its letter, the FEC cited Google’s public statements that the reasons for spam filtering include blocking malware, phishing attacks and scams.
“In short, Google has credibly supported its claim that its spam filter is in place for commercial reasons and therefore did not constitute a contribution within the meaning of [Federal Election Campaign Act]”, he wrote.
Documents related to the case will be made available to the public by Feb. 10, according to the letter.
“The Commission’s bipartisan decision to dismiss this complaint reaffirms that Gmail does not filter emails for political purposes,” said Google spokesman José Castañeda. “We will continue to invest in our industry-leading Gmail spam filters because, as the FEC notes, they are important to protecting people’s inboxes from unwanted, unsolicited or dangerous messages.”
While the FEC did not directly influence Gmail’s practices, the letter highlighted the limitations and context surrounding a 2022 academic study that the RNC had relied heavily on in its initial complaint.
The study by North Carolina State University researchers had involved an experiment testing the spam filters of Gmail, Microsoft Outlook and Yahoo! mail Their results suggested that of the three email providers, Gmail was the most likely to flag Republican campaign emails as spam.
The RNC had cited the study’s findings as evidence of “illegal and corporate in-kind contributions” to Democratic candidates, including Joe Biden, and called for an FEC investigation.
But the FEC letter cited several factors that cast doubt on the RNC’s interpretation of the research, including statements of study limitations and a Washington Post interview with one of the study’s lead authors, who had said Republicans were “mischaracterizing” the document.
The study itself acknowledged that it covered a short period of time and that its conclusions could have been affected by the campaigns’ tactical decision-making, as well as other variables the study did not take into account, the FEC wrote , and added that in his answer. to the RNC allegations that Google had said the researchers used a sample of 34 email addresses “when Gmail has 1.5 billion users.”
“Although the NCSU study appears to demonstrate a disparate impact of Google’s spam filter, it explicitly states that its authors have no reason to believe that there have been deliberate attempts by these email services to create these biases to influence voters,” the FEC. added
Meanwhile, there is still an RNC lawsuit against Google over the same Gmail filtering issue. And Google has continued with an FEC-approved pilot project that allows political campaigns to bypass Gmail’s spam filters. More than 100 political entities are participating in this program, a Google spokesperson told CNN on Wednesday.