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Historic Lawsuit from Ohio AG Calls for Google Reclassification As Public Utility

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit to have Google reclassified as a public utility, which would drastically change the way the search engine is regulated.

google 76517 640smallThe landmark suit was filed in Delaware County Court and seeks to rein in how the search engine presents its results to those using the service in Ohio, according to the state's attorney general. “Google uses its dominance of internet search to steer Ohioans to Google’s own products--that's discriminatory and anti-competitive,” said Yost in a statement. “When you own the railroad or the electric company or the cellphone tower, you have to treat everyone the same and give everybody access.”

 According to the announcement Ohio is the first state in the country to bring such a lawsuit. “The lawsuit … asserts two causes of action against Google: It seeks a legal declaration that Google is a common carrier (or public utility) subject to proper government regulation [and] it says Google has a duty to offer sources or competitors rights equal to its own, meaning it should not prioritize the placement of its own products, services and websites on search results pages,” according to Yost’s office.

Monetary damages are not included in the suit.

From Twitter 

Tiffany C. Li @tiffanycli

"'I'm quoted in @NBCNews on Ohio vs. Google: “It sounds like another attempt to limit the power of big tech without paying attention to the actual law. Google’s not a public utility any more than the Yellow Pages telephone book is.' https://t.co/kN2cnoEK6v?amp=1"

Yost said Google should be responsible for providing those “equal rights” with respect to advertisements, integrated specialized searches, direct answers, enhancements and knowledge boxes, among other things.

“In plain terms, Yost argues Ohioans are harmed by Google because they cannot make the best choices if they don’t get all of the information. For example, if someone searches for a flight and Google returns its own presentation of search results to steer the person to Google Flights, the person doesn’t see offers from competitors such as Orbitz and Travelocity,” reads the announcement.

Yost was also one of many other state attorneys general to file an anti-competition lawsuit against Google under the Sherman Act in December. According to Attorney General William Tong’s office, a bipartisan coalition featuring almost 40 plaintiffs allege Google’s conducts violates Section 2 of the federal law. “Google holds a monopoly power over online search that has deprived consumers and businesses of choice, innovation and privacy. By enforcing exclusionary agreements and depriving competitive search sites of valuable online real estate, Google has unlawfully protected its own platform while squeezing out the competition, to the detriment of consumers and advertisers,” said Tong. “We are suing … to break up Google’s unlawful stranglehold and to restore free and fair competitive marketplace.”

A representative from Google, cited by The Wall Street Journal, said the remedies sought in the most recent lawsuit would hinder the company’s ability to connect with its customers. The representative added the suit has “no basis in fact or law” and noted it will be defending itself in court.

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