Marco Rubio Got Furious At Google Because His Fundraising Emails Were Going To Spam. Turns Out His Email Was Misconfigured

from the stop-spamming dept

Over the last few months, we’ve been covering a ridiculous situation in which Republicans are trying to force their spam into your inboxes. It began with a study that some Republicans misread (or deliberately misinterpreted) to claim that Google was “censoring” their political mailings. That study showed that for an untrained, brand new mailbox, Google would send more GOP campaign mailings to spam as compared to Democrats. However, it also showed that the reverse was true for other large email providers Outlook.com and Yahoo Mail. Perhaps even more importantly, it showed that if the user did just a bit of training of Gmail’s spam filter, this issue went away. Also, the study did not take into account the differences in tone, style, and content of Republican and Democrat emails.

And yet… if you talk to some Republicans, you’d think this was the biggest issue ever. Of course, last week the NY Times may have uncovered the real root cause of this (though it did not connect the two): donations to Republicans have been dropping. There are likely many reasons for this. It could be the tight economy. It could be that more and more people are realizing Republicans no longer stand for anything beyond stupid culture wars. It could be that for all the fun it is to “own the libs,” now that the Supreme Court has dismantled a variety of rights and protections, people are waking up with a bit of a hangover, and a realization that this isn’t what they actually wanted. There are lots of reasons it could be, but the Republicans — driven by the Republicans’ favorite spamming agency, Targeted Victory — have decided that it must be because Google is sending their emails to spam.

Thus, they’re doing everything they can to force their spam into your inbox. This includes introducing an actual law that says email providers can no longer shunt politician emails to spam. Google, perhaps fearing an upcoming GOP administration, folded like a cheap card table, and requested that the Federal Election Commission allow them to whitelist politician emails. The FEC has been flooded with comments about this proposal, almost all of them screaming that they don’t want this. It’s still quite possible that the FEC will approve the program, because the request to the FEC is really about whether or not this is an unfair campaign contribution, not whether or not people want more political spam in their inbox.

And, yes, it’s political spam. As we’ve noted repeatedly, Republicans in recent years have really embraced extremely spammy techniques that appear to be much more focused on separating gullible rubes from their money, including tricking them into unwittingly making recurring donations (perhaps another reason why their fans are less interested in donating this time around). We’ve also covered how one Republican candidate is tricking people into donating to his campaign by pretending he’s sending emails on behalf of more famous candidates like Trump or DeSantis.

In short: Republicans are using spam techniques, pushing historically unpopular ideas, and ripping off their base. But, rather than fix any of that, they want to force people to see their spammy emails in their inboxes.

Last week, the Washington Post had a deep dive article on all of this with a few quite revealing anecdotes. It covers various meetings and sessions where clueless GOP politicians scream at Google without realizing how much they’re telling on themselves. The most notable: Marco Rubio apparently was absolutely furious with Google… until someone realized whoever he was paying to handle his email hadn’t configured his email properly, and that was the problem:

The most forceful rebuke, attendees said, came from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who claimed that not a single email from one of his addresses was reaching inboxes. The reason, it was later determined, was that a vendor had not enabled an authentication tool that keeps messages from being marked as spam, according to people briefed on the discussions. Rubio campaign manager Mark Morgan said the problem also required Google to perform a reset on its end. Google’s Castañeda said such resets are standard practice once senders adhere to best practices.

The article doesn’t go into detail, but it sounds like Rubio’s spamming operation didn’t set up a DKIM/DMARC authentication setup. I know this is plaguing lots of folks. Hell, it’s something we’ve had to deal with at Techdirt after we realized that Google was sending a lot of our emails to spam. But, rather than whine about “bias” against us, we explored the details and figured out how to fix our email configuration.

Also notable in the WaPo story? The fact that this is driven by the Republicans favored spamming company, Targeted Victory. We wrote a story suggesting they were behind this whole moral panic and the WaPo story, in passing, more or less confirms it:

Both Coby, from the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, and Zac Moffatt, Targeted Victory’s chief executive, were present, which struck some participants as unusual for a policy lunch.

Uh yeah. You don’t normally have your campaign spam vendor showing up to a policy lunch. Unless your campaign spam vendor is so shit at their job, that they have to go and blame Google rather than admit that their spammy fund raising tactics are failing because more and more people are sick and tired of the spam.

But, honestly, throughout the article, the one sense you get over and over again is that Republicans have an astounding sense of entitlement, combined with an incredible ignorance of how basic technology works. Add to that a lack of concern for the truth, and you get nonsense like this:

Some were unconvinced by the company’s responses. “What Google is saying is false,” Moffatt told The Post, accusing the company of seeking to “distract attention from the proven problem of unfair filtering. … Now that there has been independent, third-party confirmations, they are scrambling to find a half-baked solution that is completely unworkable.”

Coby, in a statement, said voters who sign up to receive campaign emails “should receive 100 percent of the emails unless they unsubscribe or mark the email as spam.”

“This is not what happens on Gmail. They choose to actively block GOP emails even if the voter has not taken these actions,” he added. “Google is lying if they tell you they only block emails when a voter marks as spam or unsubscribes.” (Google does not say that, in fact outlining a range of factors that go into spam filtering, such as suspicious links and phrases, in addition to user behavior.)

These very unserious people are so convinced that they’re the victims of some conspiracy that they’re even making up what Google is trying to explain to them as to why their spam gets classified as spam.

The “Google is lying if they tell you…” line is hilariously revealing. Google has never said that. It’s what an unserious, very foolish person is pretending they said because he can’t come to terms with the fact that his own company sucks at what it does, and his clients are mad. So, now he’s convinced them that Google is to blame, because his clients are even more ignorant. It’s nonsense all the way down.

Hilariously, this situation has gotten so stupid that pretty much the only people who think that Google is deliberately blocking emails are Republican politicians. As I was finishing up this article, I saw that Erick Erickson, a very rightwing/Republican supporting commentator, had a whole Substack post complaining about this same thing, and noting that this is all an attempt by Republican spam consultants to shift the blame away from their own shit email practices.

The consultant class of the GOP is pushing the mythology that Google and Apple are flagging their emails because tech companies hate Republicans. I’ve spent a week on the phone with many Republican consultants, including those tied to campaigns whose emails make it to my inbox. They all tell me the same thing — the problem is not Google or Apple, but the GOP consultant class.

He posts multiple screenshots of his own email inbox, which is basically full of Republican political spam that he never signed up for, and highlights how it’s all just terrible email practices from Republican campaigns and their “digital” consultants.

These are not examples of Google abusing Republican emails. This is an example of Republican consultants abusing emails they have access to and Google and Apple protecting their users from spam.

Unfortunately, the Republican consultants have the ears of their leaders and their solution is to pressure Google and Apple to let all the spam go through. They are selling Republican elected officials on the idea that Google is nefariously blocking their emails.

The reality is the consultants will not fess up to their abuses. They will not own up to their poor stewardship of email lists. They’ll claim the Democrats are more effective because of tech company biases and not because the Democrats are actually better stewards of an email file.

The reality though is easy to notice. 

So, even their supporters are noticing that Republican emails go to spam because they are spam. As Erickson notes:

Email and SMS spam are driving away small dollar Republican donors. The candidates are now reaping what their consultants have been sowing.

It would be nice if the media stopped covering this made up campaign as if it’s a real story, and noted the same reality that Erickson has noticed. The problem is not the spam filters. The problem is the “digital campaign” companies and their terrible practices.

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Comments on “Marco Rubio Got Furious At Google Because His Fundraising Emails Were Going To Spam. Turns Out His Email Was Misconfigured”

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38 Comments
This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
David says:

Of course this is censorship.

When Google/Facebook/whoever filter the spam from people who are too Internet illiterate to properly understand current technology and send properly authenticated mails, how is this not biased against Republicans?

And if you go “they should get knowledgeable consultants to do their Email”, which technologically versed person would stoop to helping Republicans with their crusade back into the Middle Ages? They already need every available technically savvy Republican for tampering with voting machines.

“They should get their mail configuration right if they want to spam people” is like “well, they should have read the small print before agreeing to the cataract operation”.

David says:

Re: Re:

“expert email company” reminds me of “professional masonry drill bit sets” where two sets with 10 differently sized drill bits each will come at the price of a single brand masonry drill bit.

And when buying the former, you get to strategically plan the order in which you want them to break off in order to end up with a hole of the right size.

This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Exactly! This is clearly big tech revealing a deep, ingrained bias against the stupid, the ignorant, the lazy, and the selfish!

For years they’ve developed their “technology” with more and more buttons (to confuse) and switches (to confound) so that all the lazy, stupid people who can’t be bothered to learn new things are kept out of their walled gardens. This must end! Why do we need millions of colors when you could tell who was good or bad in the old Westerns using just black and white? It’s big tech and their fancy “color gamut” that’s ruining this generation!

jacksays says:

Re: Re:

I work for an Email Service Provider. Gmail monitors every action you take on an email and uses that data to build the algorithm that decides what goes to the inbox and what goes to spam.

Note: if you receive mail just like what OTHER people have routinely marked as spam it will most likely end up in your spam folder vs inbox because the algorithm is led to believe “if no one else wants it why would you?”

If you’re that deadset on receiving these emails (or any email landing in spam) just click the NOT SPAM button and it will resume going to your inbox.

It’s really just that simple. No plot.

David says:

Re: Re: Re:

If you’re that deadset on receiving these emails (or any email landing in spam) just click the NOT SPAM button and it will resume going to your inbox.

But that would be lying. Isn’t there an “equivocate” button?

Joke aside, the problem is not that it’s too hard for the recipients to reenable these mails. The problem is that they are spam and the recipients are not likely to opt-in. They’d just feel guilty or ambivalent or “too bothersome” about opting out.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Something something Upton Sinclair quote….

It can’t be we suck, it has to be because they are against us!!
These idiots are paying money to people who have no fucking clue how to do the job they are paid for & then blaming everyone but the clueless.

They have spent so much time claiming its all a witch hunt against them, that I think some of them are starting to believe their own lies.
It’s not a witch hunt, its that you are an idiot hiring morons.

Protip: the 400th email you send screaming that the drag queens will ruin children unless they donate today rings a bit hollow after you fscked over vets to for a political “win” in a fight you invented.

Much like there aren’t documented cases showing massive “trans attacks” in bathrooms, drag queens harming children, these messages are always in the forefront… funny how yet another batch of “pastors” from evangelical churches were busted over the weekend for trying to sleep with underage children.

Drag Queens & Kings are performers. They entertain people with their talent. But somehow people believe, without any fucking evidence, they are dangerous… yet another pastor goes down for molesting a 15 yr old and fucking silence.

The part of “small government” has inserted themselves into the lives of parents, telling them what is or is not right for their children, telling them they have no rights to control reproduction, threatening to take away contraception, all in service to religious beliefs that do not call out the actual child molesters in their midst.

They should be demanding refunds from their spammers for being unable to do the job correctly. There isn’t some plot against them & it takes a special kind of asshole to believe that from their powerful position that there is a concerted effort against them. The problem isn’t the AI identified 99% of what they said as hate speech, its that 99% of what they say is hateful speech throwing some citizens under the bus to scare other citizens into keeping them in power as they destroy the country so they can profit.

David says:

Re:

Much like there aren’t documented cases showing massive “trans attacks” in bathrooms, drag queens harming children, these messages are always in the forefront…

The bathroom battles are not about drag queens/kings. They are about trans people who get blocked from using a bathroom where they are reasonably safe/comfortable/appropriate.

Forcing trans women into male bathrooms is asking for them getting into trouble. Female bathrooms as a rule have closed single stalls with toilets. Forcing trans men into female bathrooms is asking for them getting into more trouble.

It’s all just about scoring cheap points with a xenophobic (with “xenos” being anything outside your circle of experience) audience on the back of people whom bigots don’t have and don’t want a clue about.

Drag queens aren’t really an issue here except for the very, very stupid clueless people.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Wasn’t trying to tie the 2 things together.

They scream about Transpeople in bathrooms despite no evidence.
They scream about Drag Queen grooming kids despite no evidence.

It is about giving idiots an other to blame all the sins of the world on while ignoring the worst predators are often the ones saying blame the other.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3

Sadly they are repeated several times a day & the media keeps covering it was said & those motivated by those words to harm others.

I was told my right to marry would end the world, make all marriages not count, pedophilia becoming legal, people marrying animals… funny nothing like that happened but they are still trying to overturn it.

But then these assholes have no problem with plural marriage because religion, I mean they have a fucking tv series about it and no ones arrested?

Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re: Re:4

As ridiculous as the situation in Sister Wives is to my point of view, Kody Brown’s arrangement is actually legal as he legally married only one of his wives and the other ‘marriages’ are what he calls ‘spiritual unions’. Still ridiculous, though. We may not be a naturally monogamous species, but why do only us men get to be polygamous and not women?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5

“Reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his wives sued the state and won, effectively decriminalizing plural marriage as a religious belief.”

stares in OMFG

“In 2020, the Utah Legislature passed a law to decriminalize polygamy, reducing bigamy among consenting adults from a third-degree felony, punishable by prison time, to an infraction on par with a speeding ticket.

“That’s for consenting adults,” said Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson, who sponsored the bill when she served in the Utah Senate. “Anyone who still commits bigamy, the traditional sense of bigamy where they’re married to someone and they go fraudulently marry someone else, that’s a third-degree felony. Or if they try to coerce someone into purporting to marry them? That’s also a third-degree felony. We also kept a second-degree felony for anyone who engages in bigamy and also commits other crime like fraud or sexual abuse, things like that.””

stares in I guess only heterosexuals can be all consenting and stuff

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/utah/articles/2022-04-24/after-utah-decriminalized-polygamy-some-see-a-culture-shift

Chris ODonnell (profile) says:

I’m feeling pretty good about moving my email to a paid Canadian provider a few years ago. My inbox should be safe from the fallout of this.

Democrats should probably avoid being too smug here though, as me giving money to my Congressional Representative resulted in me getting spammed from Democrats in dozens of states I don’t live in.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

'It's not our fault! It's NEVER our fault!'

Honestly this was all but inevitable, it’s not like the Party of Personal Responsibility was ever going to admit that the problem was on their end, whether that be screwing up their email settings, sending a toxic message that the recipients don’t want and/or just sending emails in such a messed up manner that it’s indistinguishable from spam, so of course they’re going to blame anyone and everyone but themselves.

Anonymous Coward says:

We can all thank the original service providers for this scenario. I mean, in the beginning, what we now call “email” (as in, not invented by Shiva Ayyadurai) was simply a “cost us nothing center” (versus a cost center or a profit center), so it was offered as a come-on. Way back then.

Now, it’s being offered for free simply because no provider wants to jump the gap and start charging for the service. The thinking is, it would be sheer suicide, business-wise. No, in fact I’d be the very first to sign up for such a service, about one nano-second after it was announced. Even if it was every email costs me a penny, not just a sliding scale of the first few are free then the charges kick in, I’d still go for it. It should be obvious who’d be paying big bucks, and who’d be owning spam-free email boxes.

Once this starts, that service will be utterly swamped with registrants, and it will be about three (3) days before every other service is on board with the idea. After all, no provider wants to be on any number of RBL’s (realtime blackhole list of known spam-sending source providers), which is how “free” email providers will be treated, mosh-kosh.

Trust me, it’s all about the money. Simply charge for email, and spam will disappear faster than Hawley running from rioting insurrectionists.

Anne Mitchell Esq. (user link) says:

Here's a plain English explanation of the proposed law and what you can do about it

There is a plain English explanation about the proposed legislation, and information about what you can do about it, who to contact, and how to contact them, here: https://www.isipp.com/blog/do-you-want-political-email-to-bypass-spam-filters-and-go-directly-to-your-inbox-congress-does-heres-what-to-do/

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