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Should Google be regulated like a public utility?

Raymonde Weyzen

Earlier this month, an Ohio court sued Google for utilising their position of dominance to promote their own products and asked to have Alphabet’s Google company, GOOGL.O, declared a public utility. The rationale behind this lawsuit is: "When you own the railroad or the electric company or the cell phone tower, you have to treat everyone the same and give everybody access," according to the Attorney General1.

According to estimations, nearly 90% of desktop internet searches are exclusively done via Google, and roughly 95% of these are on mobile devices.2 Some of the responses to these searches are promoting Google’s products, even though this is not always the optimal response for the search entry. 

"It [a search] often features Google products and services in attractive formats at the top of the Results page above organic search results. Additionally, Google often presents Google products in enhanced ways in the search results that are designed to capture more clicks," according to the lawsuit3. If this is found to be true, this would mean Google’s search algorithms are discriminatory and in violation of the laws of competition. Now, this kind of prioritisation is allowed. However, if Google were in fact declared a public utility, it would be regulated as such, and preferential treatment of own products would be prevented.

This lawsuit is one of a series of actions to put a halt to the power of tech companies. For example, this is going on in parallel with another lawsuit in Colorado. Here, another law passed enabled consumers to deny the collection of their data, granting individuals control over the data being shared. This clearly marks a change in the landscape. Up until now, Big Tech has hardly been regulated by governments. This situation is no different in Europe, where Google’s services dominate the digital landscape, and our daily lives, just as well.

The fact that legislation on technology is finally beginning to pick up in the United States is great news. In Europe the first steps in this domain are also being taken, for instance in the form of the European Strategy for Data. As of yet, specific rules and regulation are not in place, however. Let’s hope that Europe follows the American example quickly and starts acknowledging not only the power, but also extensive impact Big Tech has on the (digital) lives of Europeans in dedicated rules and regulations. 

Image credit:
2020, Photo by Duncan Meyer on Unsplash

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