US Republican party's spam filter lawsuit against Google dimissed

Argument that Mountain View is politically biased against RNC 'pure speculation,' says judge

The Republican National Committee's attempt to hold Google accountable for sending its emails to Gmail's spam folder have failed, with a federal judge in California dismissing the conservative political group's lawsuit yesterday. 

US District Court judge Daniel Calabretta of California's eastern district wrote in his decision [PDF] that the RNC's claims "fail as a matter of law," but even that doesn't really matter because Google is protected by section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects internet companies from liability for content generated by their users.

Dismissing the case on section 230 grounds relies on establishing whether Google had acted in bad faith by specifically targeting the RNC's emails, the judge said, and he doesn't believe the Republicans proved that.

"The RNC's allegation that Google acted in 'bad faith' does not rise above the speculative level," Calabretta said in his decision. "While it is a relatively close case, the Court concludes [the RNC] has not sufficiently pled facts to establish that Google has acted without good faith." 

One of the more entertaining passages from Google's request [PDF] to dismiss the lawsuit comes in Chocolate Factory lawyers' breakdown of Republicans' explanations of the spam filtering, which the RNC said was spiking at the end of each month - a supposedly critical time for fundraising efforts. 

"The complaint does not explain why, if Google harbored such deep-seated animus toward the RNC and its political beliefs, Google would target the RNC's emails only at the end of each month," Google's lawyers said, adding that RNC legal scholars were seemingly "undeterred by that and other gaping holes in its theory."

Republicans ignored remedies

For those unfamiliar with this case, the Republican party's impetus for the lawsuit [PDF] filed in October of last year came from a study [PDF] released in March 2022 that the RNC said proved Google was biased against them and was sending emails to spam "because of the RNC's political affiliation and views."

The authors of the study insisted their findings don't support the Republican's narrative, but no matter: the RNC still managed to get Google to respond when it complained to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) over the issue, leading to Google pushing for a pilot program that would exempt political messages from Gmail's spam filters.

The effort to appease the RNC didn't ultimately matter, however, because they never participated in the program, which Google shuttered in January.

"Many other politically affiliated entities chose to participate in that program, which was approved by the FEC. The RNC chose not to do so," Google noted in its dismissal request.

Calabretta said in his decision that the aforementioned study was the only fact alleged by the RNC to support its claims that Google was intentionally targeting it, but that the study itself concluded that "there is no reason to believe Google was acting in bad faith."

Thus, the judge concluded, "the remainder of the allegations in the Complaint are inconsistent with such a conclusion." 

Not the first RNC spam case fail

The FEC's decision to allow Google's pilot program to exempt political emails from spam didn't come out of nowhere – it was a response to the aforementioned complaint the RNC filed in April with the FEC that alleged many of the same claims that it made in the California case.

The RNC failed to convince election officials too. "Google has credibly supported its claim that its spam filter is in place for commercial reasons and thus did not constitute a contribution," the FEC said in January of this year when it closed the case.

Google welcomed the January decision, and told The Register that it was also happy with Calabretta's determination that there weren't any plausible allegations behind the RNC's claims that Google politically discriminated against it. "We will continue investing in spam-filtering technologies that protect people from unwanted emails while still allowing senders to reach the inboxes of users who want their messages," Google spokesperson José Castañeda said.

The RNC lawsuit included seven counts, all of which Calabretta dismissed. The judge did give leave for the RNC to amend counts three and four, which claim Google violated California's unfair competition law, and had interfered with the RNC's ability to make money.

The RNC didn't respond to our questions for this story, but Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel did tell The Washington Post that the case wasn't over, it was part of "a crucial action against Big Tech's anti-conservative bias," and that the RNC would be filing an amended complaint.

Whether it'll succeed is another matter altogether. Calabretta said that the RNC's new complaint will need to "establish a plausible theory of unfairness or unlawfulness, with the Republican party has so far failed to do twice, instead relying on what the judge said was "pure speculation." ®

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