Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost on Tuesday filed a landmark lawsuit asking the court to declare Google a public utility, reining in the ways the powerful search engine provides search results to the people of the State.
This comes after France’s competition watchdog fined the web search giant 220 million euros ($268 million) on Monday for abusing its market power in the online advertising industry.
The Attorney General accuses Google of being anticompetitive, forcing Ohioans to use its products in the first of its kind case.
“Google uses its dominance of internet search to steer Ohioans to Google’s own products–that’s discriminatory and anti-competitive,” Yost said. “When you own the railroad or the electric company or the cellphone tower, you have to treat everyone the same and give everybody access.”
The lawsuit, filed in Delaware County Court, asserts two causes of action against Google:
It seeks a legal declaration that Google is a common carrier (or public utility) subject to proper government regulation.
It says Google has a duty to offer sources or competitors rights equal to its own, meaning it should not prioritize the placement of its own products, services and websites on search results pages. Those equal rights should extend to advertisements, enhancements, knowledge boxes, integrated specialized searches, direct answers and other features. The lawsuit does not seek money damages.
In France, Isabelle de Silva, president of the French Competition Authority, said in a statement the decision is the first in the world “to look at the complex algorithmic auction processes by which online advertising ‘display’ operates.”
She added that the investigation revealed processes by which Google favored itself over its competitors on advertising servers and supply-side platforms, which are pieces of software used by publishers to manage, sell and optimize ad space on their websites and mobile apps.
“These very serious practices have penalized competition in the emerging online advertising market, and have enabled Google not only to preserve but also to increase its dominant position,” said de Silva.
“This sanction and these commitments will make it possible to re-establish a level playing field for all actors, and the ability of publishers to make the most of their advertising spaces.”
The investigation came after U.S.-based News Corp, French newspaper Le Figaro and the Belgian press group Rossel filed a complaint against Google.
The investigation found that Google gave preferential treatment to its DFP advertising server, which allows publishers of sites and applications to sell their advertising space, and its SSP AdX listing platform, which organizes auction processes and allows publishers to sell their “impressions” or advertising inventory to advertisers. Google’s rivals and publishers suffered as a result, the regulator said.
Google announced in a blog on Monday that it will be making a series of changes to its advertising technology.
“We recognize the role that ad tech plays in supporting access to content and information and we’re committed to working collaboratively with regulators and investing in new products and technologies that give publishers more choice and better results when using our platforms,” wrote Maria Gomri, legal director of Google France.
In Ohio, Yost argues Ohioans are harmed by Google because they cannot make the best choices if they don’t get all of the information. For example, if someone searches for a flight and Google returns its own presentation of search results to steer the person to Google Flights, the person doesn’t see offers from competitors such as Orbitz and Travelocity.
As antitrust scrutiny increases in the US and Europe, the big tech is increasingly getting caught in the web of the authorities and Google is having a full share.