Google Sued to Be Declared a Public Utility Company by Ohio

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Ohio asked a court on Tuesday to declare Alphabet’s Google a public utility, a step the state’s Republican attorney general said would forbid the search and advertising giant from giving preferential treatment to its own products.

“When you own the railroad or the electric company or the cellphone tower, you have to treat everyone the same and give everybody access,” Attorney General Dave Yost said in a statement.

The lawsuit, which estimates that Google is used for nearly 90 percent of Internet searches and has 95 percent of the search share on mobile devices, accuses Google of responding to certain search requests in a way that prioritises Google’s products even if other responses would give better answers.

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“Google uses its dominance of Internet search to steer Ohioans to Google’s own products – that’s discriminatory and anti-competitive,” Yost said.

A Google spokesperson said the company would defend itself in court.

“Google Search is designed to provide people with the most relevant and helpful results. … Ohioans simply don’t want the government to run Google like a gas or electric company. This lawsuit has no basis in fact or law,” the spokesperson’s statement said.

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The lawsuit seeks no monetary damages but asks the court to require Google to refrain from prioritising its own products. It alleges that nearly two-thirds of Google searches in 2020 were done without leaving Google’s platform.

“It often features Google products and services in attractive formats at the top of the Results page above organic search results. Additionally, Google often presents Google products in enhanced ways in the search results that are designed to capture more clicks,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit was filed in the common pleas court, Delaware County, in Ohio. It is one of several filed by the federal government and state attorneys general against big tech platforms Google and Facebook.

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© Thomson Reuters 2021


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