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Google Revealed Plans for a Big Change to Gmail That Almost Nobody Wants

Originally posted on inc.

Virtually every public comment opposed Google’s idea for the change to how Gmail

How do you feel about spam? Would you like to get more unsolicited messages in your email? Also, would you want them land directly in your email inbox, instead of being routed to your spam folder?

Hold that thought. Because you’ll want to know what’s going on with Gmail.

Earlier this month, attorneys for Google sent a 15-page letter to the Federal Election Commission asking for an advisory opinion on a plan to start exempting some political emails in Gmail from spam.

Specifically, Google wants the FEC to weigh in “on a proposal to launch a pilot program” under which emails from some FEC-registered political committees would “not be affected by forms of spam detection to which they would otherwise be subject.”

Instead, Gmail users would need to mark these messages manually as spam, one by one, otherwise they’d keep coming. Google would also give data about how many emails wind up in people’s Gmail inboxes to the candidates and political committees.

Three quick observations:

  • First, I write an email newsletter that goes to thousands of people every weekday, so I can speak with some authority: It would be an absolute dream to never have to worry about spam folders. But, this proposal would apply only to political emails.
  • Second, this would represent a very big change because of the sheer number of people who use Gmail: somewhere between 1.5 billion and 1.8 billion people according to various estimates. In fact, I just checked my data, and just over half of my readers have email addresses ending in “gmail.com.”
  • Finally, this change is the last thing that most Gmail users actually want, at least if the hundreds of public comments the FEC has received since Google’s July 1 request are any indication.

In fact, having just read through 215 emailed public comments that the FEC made public in one of its batches last week, virtually every single comment opposed Google’s request.

(The FEC’s case file can be found here; most of the documents are .pdfs.)

A few representative comments:

  • “Regarding the below, absolutely not…”
  • “Please firmly and unequivocally reject … This is a terrible idea.”
  • “Absolutely no. A thousand times no.”
  • “Do. Not. Grant. This. Request.”
  • “Anyone proposing this idea of political SPAM bypassing spam filters should be tied to a TV set with their eyes pried open and forced to watch hundreds of hours of ‘my opponent is a scumbag’ ads.”
  • “Allowing [G]oogle to prioritize political emails … would basically mean that Google was providing a large political donation to every politician sending emails to Gmail addresses.”

Actually, that last comment seems to point to what’s going on behind the scenes.

Earlier this year, Republican politicians complained to the FEC that Google was unfairly censoring Republican fundraising emails in Gmail by sending them to spam at a higher rate than Democratic emails.

Republicans alleged this amounted to a series of “illegal, corporate in-kind contributions” to Democrats.

Google vehemently denied any bias, and last month, Google CEO Sundar Pichai reportedly flew to Washington to meet with top Republicans and pitch them on the no-spam idea.

As a no-longer-practicing attorney who still follows legal issues like this, I’m intrigued and eager to see how things play out. Apparently, I’m not the only one.

Last week, the FEC announced it’s extending the deadline by which people can file comments to support or object to Google’s plan.

The new deadline to chime in: August 5.

“There’s unusual public interest in this request,” tweeted FEC commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub, “we should hear as much feedback as we can.”

Source: inc.

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