A court ruling in Ohio has rejected demands by Google that a case that could make it a “common carrier” subject to all the neutrality requirements of that status be thrown out.
The Washington Examiner said the judge refused the company’s demands that the case, brought by the state of Ohio, be dismissed.
The decision is the first time that a U.S. court has allowed a Big Tech operation to face the possibility of being considered a business of public accommodation, “similar to utility companies or telecommunications companies, which are not allowed to discriminate against consumers who are willing to pay fees.”
— Clare Morell (@ClareMorellEPPC) May 25, 2022
BREAKING: Judge denies Google’s motion to dismiss our common carrier lawsuit, rules that the search engine giant may in fact be a common carrier.
Still reading the decision, and we still have to prove the case—but this is big, the first one in the country. On to discovery!
— Attorney General Dave Yost (@DaveYostOH) May 25, 2022
The judge’s ruling said, “At its core, this lawsuit is about how the government views search engines and what duties, if any, should be expected of them. The state of Ohio’s complaint contends that Google is a common carrier of the world’s information. and its algorithms for returning search results should therefore be a neutral, unbiased process that generates data in an objective fashion.”
That would mean, the court said, it cannot then promote its own pages and products above others.
Republican Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said, “This is big,” and the case now would proceed to discovery.
The ruling is from Judge James Schuck in the Court of Common Pleas in Delaware County, Ohio.
“Google uses its dominance of internet search to steer Ohioans to Google’s own products — that’s discriminatory and anti-competitive,” Yost said last year when he filed a lawsuit to declare Google a common carrier subject to special government 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.”
An NBC affiliate explained there was a “catch” in the decision, in that the judge said Google isn’t likely to be a “public utility” altogether.
Yost charged Google Search provides results that favor its own products. He seeks a legal declaration that Google is a common carrier subject to government regulation.
The judge noted Google claimed its process of returning search results “necessarily involves the exercise of editorial judgment and discretion because its work requires it to locate and put in order web pages based on a subjective opinion about what the user will find most beneficial.”
The ruling said the case can move forward on the issue of “common carrier” status.
“None of the cases cited by the parties or that the court could find dealt squarely with whether a search engine with an admittedly overwhelming share of the market may constitute a common carrier,” Schuck wrote. “That lack of case authority does not bring this case to a halt though… the law must adjust and develop along with the technology. The question remains then whether Google’s search function, as a private business, affects the public concern to such an extent that it should be declared a common carrier.”
The judge noted the difficulty in applying common carrier law to today’s tech. But he said for the purposes of the present case, the state’s allegations were sufficient.
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