The state of Ohio filed suit against Google on Tuesday, claiming the tech giant should be regulated as a public utility due to its “discriminatory and anti-competitive” practices.
The civil action, filed by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost in Delaware County Common Pleas Court, does not seek monetary damages, but instead asks for Google to be declared a “common carrier” that could come under oversight from a body such as the state’s Public Utilities Commission.
“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 prepared 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.”
In the civil complaint, Yost said he’s concerned about Google’s ability to create “no click searches,” which means a query that directs users “to other Google platforms, such as YouTube, Google Flights, Google Maps, Google News, Google Shopping and Google Travel.”
Google “has a duty not to artificially prioritize Google services and links higher than they would be displayed as a result of Google’s internet searches algorithms in which the algorithm is not programmed to prioritize Google’s owed products and services,” the suit said.
A representative for the company, based in Mountain View, California, could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.
MSNBC legal analyst Danny Cevallos said Ohio’s end game isn’t to put Google under the direct authority of a utilities commission, but to lay the groundwork for increased regulation.
He cited private industry such as cable TV, trash hauling, airlines and casinos that are provided by private companies, but are almost always subject to rules and regulations above and beyond other businesses.
“When a business serves such a substantial part of the public that its rates, charges and methods of operation become a public concern, it can be characterized as a public utility” and targeted for increased government oversight, Cevallos said.