Home / Business / Spurred by Clarence Thomas, Ohio AG wants Google to be declared a utility.

Spurred by Clarence Thomas, Ohio AG wants Google to be declared a utility.

The large Google logo seen outside the Google offices in Silicon Valley.
expand / Googleplex office in Palo Alto, Calif., January 2018.

Getty Images | Ingus Kruklitis

Ohio sued Google today with an unusual complaint requesting a legal declaration that Google is a service provider and utility under Ohio law.

“Google is using its power over Internet search to lead Ohio residents to use Google products that are discriminatory and anti-competitive,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said when announcing the lawsuit. “When you own a railroad or electric company or telephone tower You must treat everyone equally. and make it accessible to all.”


The complaint was filed in the Common Pleas Court of Delaware County in Ohio. The lawsuit does not claim financial damages. Instead, it imposes certain non-discrimination obligations on Google.

Yost’s requested notice states that Google “is obliged to remove content from other sources without any unfair discrimination against comparable Google content.” The suit also asked for a permanent restraining order, which prohibits it. Let Google “prioritize the placement of Google products, services, and websites on Google search results pages. [sic] in Ohio without giving equal opportunities to prioritize non-Google entities.”

Clarence Thomas Influence

“Ohio is the first state in the country to file such a lawsuit,” Yost’s announcement said.

The lawsuit was influenced by the latest consensus opinion of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in which he argued that Twitter and similar companies may face First Amendment restrictions. (Even if they are not government agencies. (And free speech laws are not necessarily preventing lawmakers from control those platforms as general service providers.

“In many ways, publicly available digital platforms are similar to conventional service providers,” Thomas wrote, “although digital rather than physical. Rather, they are at the lower level communication networks, and they ‘take’ information from one user to another. Traditional telephone companies place physical calls to create networks that connect people. Digital platforms place a controllable data infrastructure. much the same”

Donald Trump’s Twitter ban for inciting violence is critical in Thomas’ opinion, but he also wrote that generic carrier regulations could extend to Facebook and Google.

Yost’s case is based on Thomas’ comments he wrote:[t]This is a fair argument that some digital platforms are similar to conventional service providers or regulated residences… Comparisons with conventional service providers are even more evident for digital platforms with outstanding market share… Search by Google—at 90 percent of market share—is valuable compared to other search engines. because more people use Generate data that Google’s algorithms use to refine and improve search results.”

Google: Don’t treat us like an electric company.

Yost’s announcement argued, “Ohio residents are harmed by Google because they can’t make the best decisions if they don’t get all the information. That person, for Google Flights, won’t see offers from competitors like Orbitz and Travelocity.”

Yost’s requested prohibition on Google prioritizing its own products, services and websites over competitors on search pages will: “Expanding to ads, improvements, knowledge boxes, integrated specialized search, direct answers, and other features.”

Google said in a statement, “Google Search is designed to get people the most relevant and helpful results. AG Yost’s lawsuit will worsen Google’s search results and allow small businesses to connect directly to Google search results.” Customers are more difficult. Ohioans don’t want governments to run Google like a gas or electric company.”

Google also said:[t]His case is not based on facts or law.” And Google search doesn’t feature any. of traditional general service providers such as railways, telephone companies and energy service providers Those features include providing a standard delivery service for a fee using public services. Property such as the rights of Google said.

The lawsuit was not “obviously right or wrong”.

Yost’s lawsuit says that under Ohio law, “[a]An entity can be a utility if its nature of operation is a matter of public concern and if membership is disclosed in a non-discriminatory and reasonable manner to the general public.” “Utilities or General carrier status when serving a significant portion of the public in a way that makes the way it operates is a matter of public concern, welfare and interests.”

“According to the Ohio Code as amended, Chapter 2721, the state is entitled to a judgment declaring that Google’s Google Search is classified as a general service provider and/or utility, whereby Google is subject to additional duties imposed by such entity under under common law Jost’s case said. The lawsuit also said an entity can be a utility under Ohio law, even though it is not regulated by the state utility board.

said Harold Feld, senior vice president of consumer and advocacy group Public Knowledge and a telecoms attorney specializing in general carrier law. The case is novel, but it is not “clearly right or wrong”.

“I think Google’s best argument is that it’s an efficient search engine. It cannot treat the searcher and all information passively. It must ‘know’ the facts about the person and decide between the information how to respond,” Feld writes. “This type of personalized treatment is often the opposite of ‘indifferent’. or ‘arbitrary’ (these words are often used to describe common vectors). “will depend on the method Ohio interpret that phrase under common law.”

Finally, Google can appeal any unsolicited judgment. to the federal court and claiming that it should be upheld by US law.

Disputes about clicking “catch”

Yost’s lawsuit also targets “Catch handles” or “Search that ends on a search engine result page or where the user clicks to other Google platforms such as YouTube, Google Flights, Google Maps, Google News, Google Shopping, and Google Travel.” Petitioning for a permanent restraining order that prohibits Google’s “inclusion of a feature on search results pages from Google Searches operated in Ohio that promotes click search without providing access to similar features to entities that are not of Google”

Yost’s lawsuit said that about half of all non-mobile Google searches in Ohio in 2019 were click searches, while more than 55 percent of mobile Google searches fell into that category. Rights that these searches, also known as “zero clicks,” are the majority of searches on Google. “Relying on a flawed approach that misunderstands how people use Search.”

Google wrote in March 2021:

People often don’t know how to use search terms when they start searching. They might start with a broad search like “sneakers,” and after reviewing the results, they find that they actually want to search. In this case, these searches would be “black sneakers”. “zero clicks” because searches don’t immediately result in clicks to the website. In the case of buying sneakers It may take a few “click center” searches to get there. But if someone ultimately goes to the retailer’s site and makes a purchase, Google sends qualified visitors to that site who are less likely to be dissatisfied.

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