Monday, 14 June 2021

New US lawsuit seeks to classify Google as public utility

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Wednesday 09 June 21

Such a classification would subject the tech giant to new regulations

In the last years, Google has been the focus of a barrage of US anti-trust lawsuits, all of which posit that the company’s dominant market position is giving them an unfair advantage over competition.   The first case, filed by the US Department of Justice back in October and joined by 11 Republican state attorneys, argued that Google has used anti-competitive tactics to protect its monopoly over general search, preventing rival search terms from getting a foothold…

In the last years, Google has been the focus of a barrage of US anti-trust lawsuits, all of which posit that the company’s dominant market position is giving them an unfair advantage over competition.
 
The first case, filed by the US Department of Justice back in October and joined by 11 Republican state attorneys, argued that Google has used anti-competitive tactics to protect its monopoly over general search, preventing rival search terms from getting a foothold.
 
A second case, filed by a coalition from over 30 states, made much the same argument, though this time with more of a focus on discriminating against vertical search business. In short, this case alleges that Google has made changes to how search results appear in order to keep traffic directed towards their own companies, rather than alternative vertical search sites.
 
Finally, a third case, led by a smaller group of states, saw complaints about Google’s exploitation of its dominant position as it relates to digital advertising. 
 
Now, Google faces yet another anti-trust lawsuit, this time led by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. Much as some of the above cases, Yost argues that Google uses its powerful position in the search market to drive people towards its own products.
 
“Google uses its dominance of internet search to steer Ohioans to Google’s own products — that's discriminatory and anti-competitive,” said Yostin a prepared court statement.
 
The suit goes on to argue that Google “has a duty not to artificially prioritise 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 prioritise Google's owed products and services.”
 
Perhaps more interestingly, the legal case is seeking to have Google declared a utility, a move that would see it fall under the scope of additional regulations. 
 “When you own the railroad or the electric company or the cellphone tower, you have to treat everyone the same and give everybody access," said Yost.
 
Google, naturally, has decried the lawsuit, arguing that their search engine is designed to “provide people with the most relevant and helpful results”. They argued that classifying the company as a utility would be detrimental for the likes of small businesses looking to connect with customers.
 
“Ohioans simply don’t want the government to run Google like a gas or electric company,” said Google in a statement. “This lawsuit has no basis in fact or law, and we’ll defend ourselves against it in court”.
 
Google is not only coming under fire in the US. Back in 2017, the EU fined Google $2.7 billion over anticompetitive practices, and since then European officials have been steadily moving to tighten their regulatory grip on the dominant US tech firms. At the start of 2021, EU antitrust regulators announced they were seeking information from advertisers regarding Google’s advertising technology practices.
 
Despite these probes, however, Google’s market dominance has continued to increase in recent years. These regulatory challenges have quickly become par for the course and whether they can threaten any significant long-term change remains to be seen. 
 
 
How are regulators rethinking their approach to big tech? Find out from the experts at this year’s Total Telecom Congress

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