Google reneged on pledge to DOJ, say online travel companies

By Johanna Jainchill

Google is going back on a promise made to the Justice Department during antitrust reviews of its acquisition of ITA Software, with its recent decision to list flights from its own flight search ahead of organic results (results appearing because of relevance to search terms), according to FairSearch.org.

FairSearch was formed last year to lobby against Google’s $700 million acquisition of ITA Software. (In April, the acquisition was approved by U.S. antitrust authorities, with stiff conditions.) FairSearch members include Expedia, Travelocity and Kayak.

Starting this month, Google began placing the results from its own flight search on top of organic search results from online travel agencies and travel metasearch sites such as Kayak.

A Google search for “flight to Los Angeles from New York” now yields results from Google’s flight search, producing a list of the lowest nonstop and lowest overall fares between the two cities, as well as the ability to click through to see more results. The organic results are listed underneath.

A Google spokesman said, “The DOJ's approval of the acquisition placed no limits whatsoever on Google's ability to include flights in our search results.”

“As we've said since sharing a first look at our flight-search feature back in September, we're at an early stage in combining ITA’s expertise with Google’s technology, and we're looking forward to continuing to develop the best tools for our users while also exploring opportunities to showcase products and services from relevant partners, including our OTA and metasearch partners.”

Ben Hammer, a spokesman for FairSearch.org, said Google had pledged to “continue to direct its users to to all segments of the online travel world.”

“That pledge directly contradicts Google's recent announcement that, at the airlines behest, it has excluded sites like Kayak, Expedia and Travelocity from being listed alongside links to the airlines next to flight results. Google designed its flight product for airlines and to steer traffic to Google's own product and away from competitors, not for consumers,” Hammer said.

Hammer added that, "It's not surprising that Google, which is fond of saying 'trust us' when asked serious questions about the legality of its business and search engine practices, is going back on promises it made publicly to the Justice Department and consumers during the antitrust review of its acquisition of ITA Software, which powers the bulk of flight search online.” 

A Google spokesperson said, “When people come to Google looking for travel information, our goal is to show them the most relevant results as quickly as possible. The response to our new flights feature has been overwhelmingly positive, and we're continuing to focus on developing and delivering the best possible experience for our users.”

In a blog post earlier this month, Google said that in response to its new flight-search tool, consumers had told the site that they wanted “to see more options to find flights and prices even more easily and quickly,” prompting its decision to show the flight information “right in your Google search results on certain flight-related searches.” 

Follow Johanna Jainchill on Twitter @jjainchilltw. 

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