Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard sues Google over ad account suspension

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) speaks during the AARP and The Des Moines Register Iowa Presidential Candidate Forum on July 17, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Getty Images)

Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii has sued Google, alleging the company “unfairly suspended” her campaign ads.

News reports said Gabbard’s campaign organization Tulsi Now, Inc. filed the lawsuit July 25 in a federal court in Los Angeles, claiming Google suspended the campaign’s advertising account for six hours on June 27 and June 28, which disabled efforts to raise funds and reach potential voters.

Google said in a statement the account suspension happened due to company’s automated systems.

The lawsuit also alleges campaign emails were placed in spam folders on Gmail at “a disproportionately high rate”, compared with emails from other Democratic candidates.

It says a substantial motivating reason for Google’s conduct is Google’s subjective perception of the campaign’s political identity and viewpoints, as well as those of others with whom the campaign associated.

According to the lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by India Abroad, Google’s election manipulation doesn’t stop with its search platform because for example, Google’s email platform Gmail sends communications from Tulsi Gabbard into people’s spam folders at a disproportionately high rate.

“In fact, Gmail appears to classify communications from Tulsi Gabbard as spam at a rate higher than other similar communications — for example, those from other Democratic presidential candidates. There is no technical explanation for this disparity,” the 36-page lawsuit filed on her campaign's behalf by Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht LLP , Los Angeles, California , said.

A CNBC report quoted a Google spokesperson as saying in a statement that Gabbard’s account suspension was a result of the company’s automated systems.

“We have automated systems that flag unusual activity on all advertiser accounts — including large spending changes — in order to prevent fraud and protect our customers,” the Google spokesperson said in the statement to CNBC.

“In this case, our system triggered a suspension and the account was reinstated shortly thereafter. We are proud to offer ad products that help campaigns connect directly with voters, and we do so without bias toward any party or political ideology.”

The lawsuit prays for relief, including a declaratory judgment that Google has violated the campaign’s free speech rights, both facially and as applied, under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and under Article I, section 2 ofthe California Constitution; an injunction requiring Google to cease and desist “capriciously restricting or otherwise censoring” the account, and from censoring or restricting the Campaign’s speech based on Google’s unfettered discretion, or the use or application of arbitrary, capricious, vague, unspecified, or subjective criteria guideline.

It also prays for a civil penalty of $2,500 for each violation pursuant to Business and

Professions Code §§ 17200, 17206, and 17536 and for punitive damages and exemplary damages in an amount to be proven at trial.

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