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Ohio files lawsuit to declare Google a public utility

Ohio files lawsuit to declare Google a public utility
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Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) on Tuesday filed a lawsuit asking the court to declare Google a public utility, which would subject the Silicon Valley giant to government regulation. 

Yost’s complaint, filed in Delaware County Court, alleges Google has used its dominance as a search engine to prioritize its own products over “organic search results” in a way that “intentionally disadvantages competitors.” 

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

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The complaint alleges that as a result of Google’s “self-preferencing Results-page architecture,” nearly two-thirds of Google searches in 2020 were completed without users leaving Google-owned platforms, meaning users either never left the search page, or clicked to another Google platform such as YouTube, Google Flights, Google Maps, Google News, Google Shopping or Google Travel. 

Ohio is the first state to bring such a lawsuit against Google. 

A Google spokesperson said Yost’s lawsuit would “make Google Search results worse and make it harder for small businesses to connect directly with customers.” 

“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 and we'll defend ourselves against it in court,” the spokesperson said in a statement. 

Google has previously pushed back on the allegations that the majority of searches on Google end without someone clicking off to a website. 

In a blog post published in March, Google’s public liaison for search, Danny Sullivan, said many searches that are often considered a so-called zero-click are because users will refine a search that was initially broader. 

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Sullivan also said that Google may connect people with a business directly without requiring the extra click, like if a user searches for business hours and then drives to the store after confirming a location is open. 

Yost’s lawsuit adds to a growing list of antitrust battles Google is facing. 

Yost is among 37 bipartisan attorneys general that filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google in December focused on the tech giant’s online search market power. 

The company is facing a separate lawsuit from states, also filed in December, alleging Google stifled competition in the advertising technology market. The Justice Department has also launched a lawsuit against Google over its search policies.