Ohio AG Argues Google Should Be Declared A Public Utility

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The state of Ohio is suing Google in a bizarre complaint seeking a legal declaration that Google is a common carrier and a public utility under Ohio law.

The complaint was filed in the Common Pleas Court of Delaware County in Ohio. Although the state is not seeking financial damages, it is considering imposing certain non-discrimination requirements on Google.

The lawsuit also seeks a permanent injunction prohibiting Google from prioritizing the placement of Google products, services and websites on Google search results pages without providing equal opportunities for non-Google companies.

It has been claimed that Google harms Ohioans by rendering them unable to make the best decisions when they do not receive all the information.

If, for example, someone searches for a flight and Google sends back its own search results presentation to guide the person to Google flights, the person is unable to see offers from other competitors such as Orbitz or Travelocity.

The requirement to prohibit Google from prioritizing its own products, services and websites on search pages over competitors would cover advertising, improvements, knowledge boxes and other features.

Google argued in a rebuttal that Google search was designed to give people the most relevant and helpful results and not operate like a gas or electricity company.

Ohio’s lawsuit, led by Attorney General Dave Yost, argues that a company’s services achieve the status of a public utility or ordinary operator when it serves a substantial portion of the public in a way that makes its working practices a matter of public concern.

The lawsuit also targets “captured clicks” or search queries that either ended up on the search engine’s results page or where a user clicked on other platforms such as YouTube, Google Flights, Maps, News, Shopping and Google Travel.

The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction prohibiting Google from adding features to the results pages of Google searches conducted in Ohio that promote hijacked click search without giving non-Google companies access to similar features.

Google could ultimately challenge any negative decision in federal court, arguing that it was pre-empted by U.S. law.

For more information, read the original story in Arstechnica.

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