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Ohio Attorney General asks courts to declare Google a public utility

Yup, just a Republican wanting a private business to be subjected to more government regulation

Dave Yost, Ohio's top government legal eagle, has filed a lawsuit that asks the courts to declare Google Search a public utility and the company as a whole a common carrier — ie: more subject to government regulation.

Google is the most visited website in the Buckeye State, and in the world, the lawsuit [PDF] claims, and its dominant position makes it necessary for government watchdogs to step in. As such, Google must stop prioritising its own products over those of its rivals' in its search results, and accept regulation by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

“Google uses its dominance of internet search to steer Ohioans to Google’s own products — that's discriminatory and anti-competitive,” Yost, Ohio's Attorney General, claimed in a canned 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."

Over half of Google searches generate so-called "captured click" results, "where information displayed by Google was placed and cast in such a way that the user conducting the query did not click on a link to a non-Google webpage," we're told. In other words, Google grabbed the info from another page and showed it in its results — denying that other site, which could be a competitor, some traffic. Yost thinks that's unfair, and wants the courts to do something about it.

“Google Search is designed to provide people with the most relevant and helpful results," a spokesperson for the search goliath told The Register.

"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.”

Ohio's AG has experience in this: last year Yost joined 37 other attorneys general in a Sherman Act lawsuit protesting Google's market dominance, claims of which Google disputed. But his position on public utilities is somewhat at odds with his Republican Party's stated views on government regulation and private business.

For instance, Net Neutrality rules, which declared US telcos that deliver the internet to Americans are common carriers, were fought tooth and nail by the Republicans, and eventually overturned by Ajit Pai, the man then-President Trump appointed to run the FCC.

It's worth noting that Yost's lawsuit cites Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote in an opinion [PDF] in April, "in many ways, digital platforms that hold themselves out to the public resemble traditional common carriers."

The lawsuit also cited Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's comments about the need for government regulation, arguing "Zuckerberg also recognized that entities such as Google, can take actions that squelch innovation and entrepreneurs." Then again, Mark does know a lot about squelching — or buying — the competition. ®

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