Google hopes to keep political emails safe from spam • The Register


Google has reportedly asked the US Federal Election Commission for its blessing to exempt political campaign solicitations from spam filtering.

The election watchdog declined to confirm receipt of the purported filing from Google, obtained by Axios, although a spokesperson said the FEC should issue an advisory opinion after reviewing whether Google made such a submission.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment. If the web giant’s alleged plan is approved, political campaign emails that aren’t considered malicious or illegal will arrive in Gmail users’ inboxes with a notice asking recipients to approve the continuation of the campaign. delivery.

The reason Google appears to have done this is because earlier this month, 27 Republicans introduced a bill called the Political Bias in Algorithm Sorting (BIAS) Emails Act.

The bill seeks to “hold Big Tech platforms accountable for using biased algorithms that take control of consumers and alter the way users can view political campaign emails,” as the said U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC).

This bill, as it stands, would make it illegal for an email service provider to apply a filtering algorithm to email messages from a political campaign account unless the recipient of the email has taken steps to apply the filter.

It would also require email service providers (cough, cough, Google) to provide quarterly transparency reports revealing details about the filtering applied to Republican and Democratic campaign emails.

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The Republican-backed bill follows the release of a North Carolina State University research paper that found that email service providers’ spam filters exhibited political bias toward one party or group. other.

The report [PDF] — titled A Peek into the Political Biases in Email Spam Filtering Algorithms during US Election 2020 — said Gmail marked more right-wing messages as spam while Outlook and Yahoo marked more left-wing messages as spam.

“Gmail marks a significantly higher percentage (67.6%) of right-wing emails as spam compared to left-wing emails (only 8.2%),” the report said. “Outlook is hostile to all campaign emails, more hostile to the left than to the right. It marks a higher percentage of emails from the left (95.8%) as spam than those from the right (75, 4%). Yahoo marks 14.2% more left-wing emails as spam than good emails.”

The academics said there was no reason to believe that these biases were deliberately introduced. Rather, they are the product of the design of spam filtering algorithms and feedback mechanisms used to adjust filtering decisions.

Their report does not specify whether Gmail or other email services factor content quality (e.g. excessive capitalization, divisive terminology, etc.) into their spam determination calculations.

The authors argue that it is important for spam filtering mechanisms to be fair while admitting that this is not an easy problem. Attempts to adjust, they say, can degrade the filter’s effectiveness and lead to more unwanted emails.

Passing through every first-time campaign email is sure to do that. ®


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