Google’s dirty political tricks are only a small fraction of the problem. What used to be a supremely useful tool has been rendered increasingly useless, and totally unreliable, but the very services that purport to provide it.
A new study found that Google’s Gmail favors liberal candidates, allowing the vast majority of emails from left-wing politicians to land in the user’s inbox while more than two-thirds of messages from conservative candidates are marked as spam.
North Carolina State University’s Department of Computer Science published, “A Peek into the Political Biases in Email Spam Filtering Algorithms During US Election 2020,” last week in order to determine if spam filtering algorithms (SFAs) are biased toward a particular political party or ideology. The extensive study took place over a course of five months, from July 1, 2020 to November 30, 2020 on Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo. They created 102 email accounts and subscribed to two Presidential, 78 Senate, and 156 House candidates.
To accurately estimate the political biases and mitigate any potential effects of demographics (ethnicity, age, and gender), we created multiple email accounts with different combinations of demographic factors and designed two experiments. The first experiment studies the general trends of biases in SFAs across the email services for the Presidential, Senate and House candidates. The second experiment studies the impact of different email interactions such as reading the emails, marking them as spam, or vice versa on the biases in SFAs. We designed an automated process to perform all the subscriptions, and took periodic backups to keep all the email accounts active as well as to keep track of the correct number of spam emails received over the course of data collection for each of the three services,” they wrote.
“We made several important observations in our study. For example, as an aggregate trend, Gmail leaned towards the left while Outlook and Yahoo leaned towards the right. Yahoo retained about half of all the political emails in inbox (up to 55.2% marked as spam) while outlook filtered out the vast majority of emails (over 71.8%) from all political candidates and marked them as spam,” the proposed methodology section continued. “Gmail, however, retained the majority of left-wing candidate emails in inbox (< 10.12% marked as spam) while sent the majority of right-wing candidate emails to the spam folder (up to 77.2% marked as spam).”
The study “further observed that the percentage of emails marked by Gmail as spam from the right-wing candidates grew steadily as the election date approached while the percentage of emails marked as spam from the left-wing candidates remained about the same” in the days leading up to Election Day.
This is why some sort of reliable community-wide direct comms systems need to be developed. Not for digital security – which is a charade no matter what technomagic is promised and probably would not be permitted – but simply for the reliability of delivery.
The user experience of email has been enhanced to the point of near-uselessness. And it probably won’t be too long before even that line is crossed.