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Gmail is the world’s most popular email provider, with almost 2BN users, and a big reason for that is its spam filter. For nearly 20 years, Gmail has succeeded where rivals have struggled in keeping spam where it belongs. But now Google risks undoing all that good work.

In June, an Axios report revealed Google’s intention to allow emails from political campaigns to bypass Gmail’s spam filter. The decision was met with widespread public scorn. Still, Google persisted, and now the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has voted 4-1 to give the company the green light. And the implications for all Gmail users are significant.

While Google has praised the FEC for its “speedy review” and signalled its intentions to begin a pilot program on users, criticism has been strong both on the FEC site and on social media.

There are several key talking points here. In the short term, the move is likely to open the floodgates to far more political campaigning emails. Parties will know they get through by default, and any attempts users make to block the sender can be easily bypassed by sending them from a new address.

In the long term, the move also establishes a precedent for Google to potentially create exemptions in other areas, whether this is a specific category of email or paid partnerships. Handled poorly, Google risks destroying the very feature which established Gmail’s success.


So why is this happening? Google claims that the move is motivated by a desire for political neutrality. Aka, if everything gets through by default, there can be no bias. It is then up to the user to selectively block content.

Google claims there will be a “prominent notification” for this, though in a world where a sender can generate new addresses at will, this could still lead to a lot of frustration for Gmail users. There is also the question of where Google draws the line because it will come under immense pressure from more controversial political groups to make the same exemptions.

In response, Google told 9to5Google, “We will continue to monitor feedback as the pilot rolls out to ensure it is meeting its goals.”

Given the public outcry the last time Gmail suffered a brief spam filter failure, I believe Google is playing with fire, and pacifying political parties at the expense of your userbase rarely ends well. Pandora’s box is open.


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