Ohio AG challenges Google’s monopoly censorship
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost believes Google is a monopoly that should be treated accordingly. Earlier this month he deposit legal action to have Google declared a common carrier (or utility) under state law.
Yost and I talked about the lawsuit and the monopoly role of Big Techs, especially Google, in American life. Here’s what we discussed, in an edited interview for clarity.
Could you explain what was the tipping point that made you and the State of Ohio realize that Google had to be treated because of its monopoly power?
It is the fact that Google dominates the search. They far exceed the threshold of reflection in terms of common carrier / public utility. For example, on mobile platforms, they generously pay Apple to be the default search engine on their phones. This puts anyone in the market at a disadvantage who wants the same kind of consideration that Google gives their own products in search results.
Due to Big Tech’s outsized role and active censorship, many are hoping this case could turn the tide and keep Google at a higher level. How involved is the First Amendment in this matter?
The First Amendment applies to government, not private industry. Because the government has a monopoly on the use of force and coercive power, we do not want it to draw the line of what is allowed and what is prohibited. It diminishes freedom.
When you get a business as big as Google – and Google is bigger than many governments in the world – it’s big enough in terms of power to compete with the government of the United States. And they can do things the US government could never do: promote or demote search results based on content. It’s philosophical. This is not the subject of this trial.
This lawsuit says, “OK Google, because of what you do, the way you do it, your market dominance, you now have – under Ohio law – an increased duty to treat everyone without bias. “
It is possible that if they are a public utility (or common carrier), with this increased duty to the public, they may have a duty not to disrupt the algorithm depending on the content of the search results. But that is not the subject of the trial. We’re just asking for a statement that under Ohio law they now fall under the definition of a common carrier or utility.
Many large tech companies appear to have monopoly control over their market segments, namely Facebook and Amazon. Why did you choose to focus on Google?
My name is David, and I don’t mind fighting Goliath, but I’d better not fight an army of Goliath.
Why did we choose Google? Because everyone uses search, all the time, every day, for everything. It is the most dominant technological platform in our lives. If Google is legally a common carrier / utility, others could be, but if Google is not then none of them are.
Some critics have alleged that this trial was state interference in a private company. Since Google’s primary function, and the subject of the lawsuit, is information, others have raised freedom of expression concerns. What is your answer ?
We are not trying to regulate Google. We try to make it known that they have a higher duty to the public, and that is the scope of our legal action. How they meet this legal obligation is up to them.
We are not asking for pecuniary damages. We are not trying to separate them. We’re not trying to play “Mom, can I”, or enforce some kind of regulation to get permission from the government. This is a very limited and elegant legal question, as it doesn’t bring up many other questions that could be related to the government telling Google how to do business. We say, “Google, this is your duty to society. Be up to it.
Freedom of speech is something that we will end up talking about in this litigation or in this litigation that arises out of this lawsuit. Google is always free to say whatever it wants. We’re not trying to get them to say something they don’t want to. All we’re saying is in the utility part – the Google search – you need to take your thumb off the scales. You are not allowed to edit and get rid of things you don’t like, because you have this increased duty.
Do you think this trial could have an impact on the role of Big Tech in society?
Well, not if we don’t win. If we don’t win the declaratory judgment, it won’t have any impact. I suspect that everyone will be watching this litigation very closely.
To better understand the role of big tech and politics in this trial, I also spoke with Kara Frederick, a researcher at the Center for Technology Policy at the Heritage Foundation.
Can you talk about the ideological censorship that these gigantic tech companies have engaged in?
The traditional gatekeepers of information – not just tech companies, but the big name media, academia, entertainment, other big business – seem genuinely fascinated with a particular ideology. There is point of view discrimination, not just on the part of Big Tech, but across the organs of culture.
We saw this very clearly during the last election season, with what Twitter and Facebook did to suppress the news feed regarding the New York Post reporting the Hunter Laptop story. Biden. You will remember in January, when Democratic politicians said, “Donald Trump is a danger. He should be off those platforms, ”17 platforms had said over the next two weeks. kicked him or banned or suspended him from their services. There is an element of public pressure, as well as a government element, to see censorship.
Democrats are asking for more. They think tech companies aren’t doing enough to stem the flow of information from people who go against mainstream leftist ideology. As these tech companies continue to actively insert themselves between user and content in increasingly political ways that begin to have political effects, everyone should be concerned.
Do you think companies like Google are monopolies or have a monopoly on the flow of information?
In terms of a more nebulous monopoly on the flow of information, these platforms – by their size, scale, reach, and ability to control information – really hamper the growth of viable alternatives.
We can’t really go wrong in quoting Clarence Thomas, and in his Biden v. Knight First Amendment Institute in April, he basically mentionned there must be real competitors and comparable alternatives. He goes on to say that when you assess a company’s substantial market power, what matters is whether the alternatives are viable. For many digital platforms today, nothing is.
Along with more traditional ideological censorship, Google is able to increase liberal discourse while removing conservative content. A quick search on any political topic shows that liberal papers will appear before conservative papers. YouTube has also been incredibly difficult with its content. Could you talk about Google’s particular brand of censorship?
To preface this, as Conservatives we believe in a free market and free enterprise. But I think it’s worth noting that Google currently controls 90% of all general search engine queries.
Google and Apple together control nearly 100 percent of the global mobile operating systems market share. It is a prodigious power. When you start to abuse this power – lowering search results and so on – everyone should be concerned.
They have their community guidelines, but these are based on sometimes nebulous and overly broad conceptions of evil and hate. They have deliberately opaque rules, inconsistent application, and a lack of transparency and real recourse when those rules are supposed to be broken.
Americans must start asking for clarity by putting pressure on these companies. In 2019, Mark Zuckerberg took to the Georgetown stage and mentionned “We want to defend freedom of expression.” He had this refrain, that more speech is the best antidote to bad speech.
Google’s motto “Don’t be mean” was very consistent in this sense. People have to start screaming when these companies don’t stand up for the values they claim to stand up for. Note: Google no longer says “Don’t be mean anymore”.
Paulina Enck is an intern at The Federalist and a graduate of Georgetown University. Follow her on Twitter at @itspaulinaenck