The lawsuit (read it here) was filed by Dave Yost, a Republican, and reflects the party’s shift from traditional stances opposed to government regulations, as he and a number of lawmakers have targeted big tech.
In a statement, Yost said that Google “uses its dominance of internet search to steer Ohioans to Google’s own products–that’s discriminatory and anti-competitive. When you own the railroad or the electric company or the cellphone tower, you have to treat everyone the same and give everybody access.”
Republicans generally have opposed efforts by the FCC to classify internet providers like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon as common carriers for the purpose of imposing net neutrality rules. Google and other tech platforms have backed strong net neutrality rules, which ensure that internet traffic is treated equally. Such services as gas, electricity and phone often rely on public rights of way in their delivery of services.
In Yost’s lawsuit, he argues that Google’s dominance in search — near 90% — gives it a competitive advantage, as it can prioritize its own services.
The lawsuit stated, “Google intentionally structures its Results Pages to prioritize Google products over organic search results. Google intentionally disadvantages competitors, by featuring Google products and services prominently on Results pages. It often features Google products and services in attractive formats at the top of the Results page above organic search results.”
Yost also quoted from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in a ruling in April, when the high court dismissed a case having to do with Trump’s blocking of Twitter users when he was president. Thomas argued that there “is a fair argument that some digital platforms are sufficiently akin to common carriers or places of accommodation to be regulated.”
Yost also is seeking an injunction to prohibit Google from self-preferencing on its results pages.
A spokesperson for Google said, “Google Search is designed to provide people with the most relevant and helpful results. AG 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.”
Google has responded before to allegations of self-preferencing, noting that “we’ve sent more traffic to the open web every year since Google was first created. And beyond just traffic, we also connect people with businesses in a wide variety of ways through Search, such as enabling a phone call to a business.” This was in response to a claim that a majority of Google searches end without someone clocking off the platform, as the desired information is posted in the results.