Earlier this month, Google sent a request to the Federal Election Commission seeking an advisory opinion on the potential launch of a pilot program that would allow political committees to bypass spam filters and instead serve political email in the main inboxes of Gmail users. During the public commentary period that is still ongoing, most of the people commenting have expressed strong opposition to various reasons that they hope the FEC will consider.
“Hard pass,” wrote a commenter called Katie H. “Please don’t allow Google to open Pandora’s Box to people by allowing campaigns/political emails to bypass spam filters.”
Of the 48 comments submitted on July 11, only two commenters have expressed support so far for Google’s pilot program, which aims to deliver more unsolicited political emails to Gmail users instead of marking them as spam. . Others of the commenters opposed the program, which raised a range of concerns, including the potential for the policy to degrade the user experience, introduce security risks, and even possibly unfairly influence future elections. .
Business Insider reported that the period for public commenting will end on Saturday, July 16, which is longer than has been shared in conflicting reports that say the first deadline for commenting is July 11. That means there is still time for more Gmail users and interested parties chime in.
Top concerns from Gmail users
Having an extra five days to comment may not seem like much, but at least the minor extension gives a chance to people who probably don’t already know Google’s proposal. FEC spokeswoman Judith Ingram told Business Insider that the FEC “declined to comment if the agency believes it has given the public sufficient time to comment on the matter.” FEC and Google did not immediately respond to Ars’ requests for comment.
Many Gmail users are in a hurry to weigh in, however, with most of the commenters citing their main concerns and urging the FEC not to approve the pilot program as they do.
For some adverse commenters, it’s all about rejecting unnecessary strains on the Gmail user experience. In other words: People don’t want emails arriving in their inbox that they haven’t signed up for. Some users have threatened to leave Gmail if political emails are diverted to the main inbox, saying politicians do not deserve special treatment by getting an exemption from the spam folder.
“Wipe my inbox with political spam if you want me to switch to my Yahoo account full time,” commentator Thomas Beard wrote. “I’m not married to your service.”
Other commenters were more concerned with a suspected government overreach. Similar to an exemption in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act that allows politicians to bypass do-not-call lists, politicians will be able to bypass Gmail’s spam filters, if approved by the FEC. This could lead to more misinformation spreading, commenters complained. Other commentators said the move could also introduce security risks. One commenter thought bad actors registering to run for office, being exempt from spam filters, and positioning themselves in scams are unsuspecting users who trust Google to filter malicious content.
Some commenters have now suggested that it is time for the FEC to strengthen regulations on political communications, not opening citizens to more acute political messaging.
“Please don’t allow this horrible idea to continue,” wrote a commentator called “d ervin.” “Google and Facebook/Meta broke everything [on the] Internet, and I want at least one of my government agencies to have the courage to prevent their over-reach. “
The worst case scenario for some commenters is a future where political spam delivered to major inboxes influences elections. Some commenters expressed concern that Google’s seemingly liberal political bias could influence Gmail users by delivering emails from Democrats to the main inbox, while still marking Republican emails as spam. . Some commentators cited how campaign emails were involved as part of the cause of the unrest on Jan. 6 (by pushing for conspiracy to election fraud), and thus said that political emails deserved more. further investigation, at least.
Others worry that older Gmail users will be more vulnerable to “emotionally charged” messaging that they never signed up for.
“This is a HORRIFIC idea,” commenter Natalee Roan wrote. “My 85-year-old mother gets more than 20 emails A DAY from political campaigns — each screaming that if she doesn’t give now, this will be the end of the USA as we know it. They’re all are from legitimate campaigns, but none of them are Opt-in — they mean the very definition of SPAM [unsolicited]. These emails add to political division by using tactics designed to literally intimidate people into making donations and intensely contributing to our political division. I can think of nothing worse for our democracy than allowing these emails to spread by not sending them through SPAM filters. “
Some commenters point out that all of these steps return the user’s responsibility to mark political messages as spam. For one commenter, that seems like a good thing: return control to the user to decide what hits their inbox, but another said that because of the amount of political emails that could hit inboxes soon, this is another reason to strongly oppose. No one has the time to sit down and mark dozens, more than hundreds or thousands, of emails as spam.
The only other commenter who spoke in favor of the proposal suggested that Gmail’s long -standing practice of turning political emails into spam is a threat to protected political speech. By sending political emails to the main inbox, it ensures that everyone’s messaging gets the same circulation. However, another commenter suggested that by sending more political emails to inboxes, Gmail could provoke political apathy, which does not support the interaction of Gmail users with all perspectives on politics.
“This is a definite way to turn OFF people to be more involved in the political process at a very important time when we need more aware and participating voters,” commentator Matt Morain wrote.