Gmail Controling which Political Emails Land in Primary Inbox

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Gmail Controling which Political Emails Land in Primary Inbox
Short Title Gmail Filters Political Emails Between Primary and Promotions tabs
Location United States
Date early 2020

Taxonomy Decisional Interference, Exclusion
Information Contact, Preference, Behavioral
Threat Actors Google

Affected Users of Gmail who subscribed to emails from political groups in the USA
High Risk Groups
Secondary Consequences Changed Behavior, Loss of Knowledge

Gmail was found to be filtering the emails from political groups between the tabs "Primary" and "Promotions" in the inbox of their users.


In early 2020 Gmail was found to have an algorithm that controls, which of the political emails land in primary inbox and which go to promotions tab, and therefore are likely to remain unnoticed by the user. Google claimed the tab organization is needed to help users organize their inbox and its classifications automatically adjust to match users’ preferences and actions. It turned out to be only about 11% of political emails that went to primary inbox, the rest - to promotions. Almost a half of all political senders, who a user is subscribed to, fails to reach users inbox with a single email. This can be interpreted as Decisional Interference, since Gmail is intruding into individual decision making regarding their political choices by filtering political information for them. Even though Google claims their algorithm is based on the analysis of personal behavioral information (users interactions) and individual preferences, it remains unclear how and which users interactions are linked to certain choices of political information to be sent to a user. Gmail’s inconsistent choice of mail landing in primary/promotions inbox was also noticed in accounts created in anonymous browser with no web history and no Gmail account history. This can also be seen as Exclusion: users are not aware of their personal information being analyzed in order to categorize and filter out some of political emails they are subscribed to.

Risk Statistics

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