Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a lawsuit Tuesday in a novel attempt to declare Google a public utility and subject it to state regulation.
The lawsuit, which was filed in a Delaware County, Ohio court, aims to use a century-old law to regulate Google by using a legal term that has historically been used to refer to railways, electricity, and telephones .
“If you own the railroad or the electricity company or the cell tower, you have to treat everyone equally and give everyone access,” Yost, a Republican, said in a statement. Ohio is the first state to have filed such a lawsuit against Google.
If Google were to be declared a so-called common carrier like a utility company, this would prevent the company from prioritizing its own products, services and websites in the search results.
Google said it doesn’t have any of the attributes of a common carrier that typically offers a standardized service for a fee using public assets like rights of way.
The “lawsuit would degrade Google search results and make it difficult for small businesses to contact customers directly,” said José Castañeda, a Google spokesman, in a statement. “Ohioans just don’t want the government to run Google like a gas or electricity company. This lawsuit has neither a factual nor a legal basis and we will defend ourselves against it in court. “
Although the Ohio lawsuit is lengthy, there is a long history of government control of certain types of businesses, said Andrew Schwartzman, a senior fellow at the nonprofit Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. “Think of ‘The Canterbury Tales. Travelers needed a place to stay and eat on long road hikes, and innkeepers weren’t allowed to deny them accommodation or rip them off, ”he said.
Following a string of federal lawsuits against Google over the past year, Ohio’s lawsuit is part of a next wave of government action aimed at regulating and limiting the power of big tech. Also on Tuesday, Colorado legislators passed a privacy law that would allow consumers to opt out of data collection.
The New York Senate passed an antitrust law on Monday to make it easier for plaintiffs to sue dominant platforms for abuse of power. After years of inactivity in Congress with technology laws, states are beginning to fill the regulatory vacuum.
Ohio was also one of 38 states that filed an antitrust lawsuit in December accusing Google of being a monopoly and using its dominant position in Internet search to oust smaller competitors.