Ohio says Google should be treated as public utilities

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Ohio says Google should be treated as public utilities

For years the Critics of Google have said that it should be treated as a public utilities for public use. On Tuesday, Ohio's Attorney General filed a suit seeking a judge to rule that the Search Company is one.

The case adds to the legal woes confronting the Alphabet Inc. subsidiary that also faces antitrust litigation from the Justice Department and a separate consortium of states led by Colorado and Texas. The company is dealing with cases in countries around the world where its dominance as a search provider has caused a push by regulators to consolidate its power.

Amidst the array of court challenges, Ohio said it was the first state to bring a lawsuit against Google that is subject to government regulation under state law. The lawsuit, which does not seek monetary damages, says that Google is bound by its own duty to provide the same rights for advertisements and product placement for competitors as it does for its own services.

When you own the railway or electric company or the cellphone tower, you have to give everyone an access and treat everyone the same, said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican.

A Google spokesman said that the remedies sought in the Ohio case would increase company-specific google searches and harm businesses' ability to connect directly to customers. A spokesman from Ohioans simply don't want the government to run Google like a gas or electric company, he said. This lawsuit has no basis in any fact or law and we'll defend ourselves in court against it.

In a statement alongside a Supreme Court order in April, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that he believed that regulated tech platforms as utilities had merit.

This case involved former president Donald Trump's practice of blocking certain individuals from following his Twitter account. The court dismissed the case as moot, given that Mr. Trump was no longer in office, but Justice Thomas suggested that social-media networks such as Twitter, Google and other tech companies could be restricted so that they could limit their power over who speaks and what is said over their platforms.

However, the Ohio case isn't focused on speech, but rather on Google's tendency to seek out alternative searches that direct users to its own products and not to competitors.

According to StatCounter, a web analytics firm, Google has a 91% share of the search market worldwide. Google's decades-old lead in search has helped it go around the questions that allow it to improve its service and make it difficult for rivals' offerings -- Microsoft Corp.'s Bing or DuckDuckGo — to compete.

For example, the search engine has appeared to surface YouTube videos from its similar-sounding video services, Facebook Inc. The company has also faced allegations that it forces content such as songs and weather from other websites and features it in so-called knowledge boxes to provide an answer to queries rather than directing users to websites that are the source of that information.

Google has previously said it doesn't give preference to YouTube and that it does not scrape other websites for useful information.

In 2020, two thirds of digital search results did without a click, according to analysis of 5.1 trillion queries by SimilarWeb, a google measurement service. Rand Fishkin, founder of SparkToro who worked with SimilarWeb on its research, said that practice deprives users on Google's site, where they receive advertisements, and keeps other websites in the dark lane.

SimilarWeb said in March in a blog post that Google's methodology was flawed because some people refine their queries before they click through a website. It said that its search engine sends billions of clicks to websites every day.

Mr. Yost argues Google's practices prevent Ohioans from making informed decisions by depriving them of access to all available information. For example, a search for a flight would lead a user to Google Flights rather than surface the travel offerings of services like Orbitz and Travelocity.

Legal scholars said there was little precedent for this case. I don't know how it would be possible to come up with a way of protecting the company from competition at the same time, said the University of Florida business professor Mark A. Jamison.

The concept of public carriers and common utilities dates back to the late 19th century conflicts over price controls or service denials. The courts in Jersey determined that railroads, water companies, pipelines and ferries had to be charged reasonable rates and serve the public without discrimination, but had special powers, government-like privileges and protections from competition.

Such legal arguments faded in the twentynth century when Supreme Court decisions allowed much larger government regulation of commerce that did not rely on such special and public interest distinctions.

It strikes me as a very 19th Century lawsuit to bring, says Daniel A. Crane, a Professor of contract and antitrust at the University of Michigan Law School.

Colorado also joined 37 others in a case led by Ohio Attorney-General. Google is suing the state of Pennsylvania in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for anticompetitive conduct under the Sherman Act. This lawsuit argues monopoly power over search engines through standard contracts such as the agreement with Apple to be the exclusive search provider for iPhones.

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