Google’s Horrible Plan to Flood Your Gmail with Political Garbage

UPDATE (11 August 2022): The Federal Election Commission has now officially approved this Google plan.

UPDATE (3 August 2022): How to Fix Google’s Gmail Political Spam Bypass Plan

UPDATE (3 August 2022): A Federal Election Commission Draft APPROVES this plan. See: https://www.fec.gov/files/legal/aos/2022-14/202214.pdf

UPDATE (19 July 2022): Public comments on this proposal can now be viewed here on the Federal Election Commission site.

UPDATE (14 July 2022): The Federal Election Commission today extended the public comment period for this issue from a deadline of July 16 to a new ending date of August 5th. I have updated this post accordingly.

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Google is backed into a corner, and Google’s attempt to get out of this corner could be very bad for Gmail users. You have just a few weeks remaining to make your opinion known about this. Please read on.

While Google studiously avoids political bias, the GOP has been bitching for ages with the ludicrous claim that Google is purposely directing GOP political emails into Gmail users’ spam folders. The GOP asserts that Google directs more political emails from Republicans than from Democrats into the spam jail, and that this is because (the GOP claims) Google hates Republicans. 

Not true. The reason more GOP political emails end up in spam is that spam is exactly where most Gmail users want those emails to be.

While both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of sending unwanted, unsolicited political emails, the fact is that Republicans send more in quantity, and they tend to be more insidious, including traps like automatic recurring payments after supposedly one-time donations, and claims (like repeating Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election) that are misleading at best and often ludicrous and dangerous. This crap deserves to be in spam.

In an attempt to get out from under what are mostly GOP complaints, Google has asked the Federal Election Commission for approval for a plan to make emails from authorized candidate committees, political party committees and leadership political action committees registered with the FEC exempt from spam detection, as long they abide by Gmail’s rules on phishing, malware and illegal content.

There’s stuff in there about notifying users the first time that they get one of these emails from a campaign so that they can (supposedly) opt-out and other details. It doesn’t matter. This plan will bury many Gmail users under a mountain of stinking swill. 

Google’s plan will never work, for a couple of reasons.

One is that campaign and other political mailings multiply and spread like a hideous plague. I’ve had the unpleasant experience of helping a Gmail user clean up the mess created when they subscribed to a single political website, in this case, yes, a Trump site that later was found to be soliciting funds for one purpose but actually using them for something else entirely. Big surprise, huh? 

In almost no time at all, this had metastasized into political mailings from affiliated groups spouting lies and begging for money, mixed in with all manner of political-appearing phishing attempts and other scams. These were showing up in his Gmail literally every few minutes. An utter nightmare. This doesn’t happen only with that GOP — though they’re the larger culprit in this saga.

The second reason that the Google plan will fail is that it will never satisfy the GOP. They’ve already proposed legislation that would make it illegal to send political email into spam. They want you to see all of it, every single word, whether you want to see it or not, whether you ever asked to see it or not.

The bottom line is that the Google plan will result in your Gmail inbox being flooded with unsolicited political garbage, that you’ll need to sort through and try (good luck!) to unsubscribe to. Whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent, or something else entirely, this probably isn’t how you really want to be spending your days.

Again, I realize that Google has been unfairly forced into this position, but that can’t and doesn’t give this plan a pass.

The Federal Election Commission is now allowing for public comments until August 5th regarding this terrible idea. You can email your comments to:

ao@fec.gov

Please note that such emails may become part of the publicly inspectable public record related to this issue.

It’s been many years since I’ve seen a worse proposal related to email spam, and it’s very unfortunate that Google has been forced into this situation. But that’s where we are, so speak now or forever hold your peace.

–Lauren–

My Thoughts About Google’s New Blog Post Regarding Health-Related Data Privacy

In my very recent post:

“Internet Users’ Safety in a Post-Roe World”

I expressed concerns regarding how Internet and telecommunications firms would protect women’s and others’ data in a post-Roe v. Wade world of anti-abortion states’ health data demands.

Google has now briefly blogged about this, at:

“Protecting people’s privacy on health topics”

The most notable part of the Google post is the announcement of this important change:

“Location History is a Google account setting that is off by default, and for those that turn it on, we provide simple controls like auto-delete so users can easily delete parts, or all, of their data at any time. Some of the places people visit — including medical facilities like counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, cosmetic surgery clinics, and others — can be particularly personal. Today, we’re announcing that if our systems identify that someone has visited one of these places, we will delete these entries from Location History soon after they visit. This change will take effect in the coming weeks.”

I definitely endorse this change, which aligns with the suggestions in my above referenced blog post regarding handling of sensitive location data. Thank you Google for taking this crucial action. This is an excellent start.

However, not yet publicly addressed by Google are the issues I noted regarding how these sensitive topics in search histories (both as stored by Google itself and/or on browsers) could also be abused by anti-abortion states hell-bent on pursuing women and others as part of those states’ extremist agendas, including in many instances abortion bans without exceptions for rape and incest.

Again, I praise Google for their initial step regarding location data, but there’s much more work still to do!

–Lauren–