On Friday, the Department of Justice (DoJ) delivered its list of demands for Google to complete its acquisition of ITA, a leading provider of travel search tools.
We applaud DoJ’s recognition of the competition problems that could result from Google’s acquisition, and support their efforts to protect consumers through a consent decree. In addition to requiring that Google license ITA software to competitors already using the software, DoJ also imposed monitoring procedures to prevent abuses after the acquisition.
Government monitors should also keep an eye on how Google manipulates search results to thwart competition in areas like online video, maps, shopping, real estate, and books.
Last September we recalled how Google favored
its own mapping services over competitors’ sites.
The leading mapping services at the time lost market share after Google bought a company called Where2 and integrated its mapping software directly into Google search results.
Now when you search for an address, city, or venue, you see Google’s map as the first result — and it’s the only map in most search results you’ll see.
Moreover, one of Google’s top executives publicly acknowledged that “it seems only fair” to show its own links first. Here’s Google’s Marissa Mayer talking about the company’s decision to place its new finance page above the more popular page from Yahoo:
“We used to have Yahoo (Finance) first and now Google is first,” she said. “…When we rolled out Google Finance, we did put the Google link first. It seems only fair, right, we do all the work for the search page and all these other things, so we did put it first.
“That’s actually been our policy since then because of Finance”
Watch for yourself in Ms. Mayer’s 2007 presentation on YouTube
Given this pattern of past behavior and its growing market dominance, regulators have to ensure that Google doesn’t use their new ITA travel tools to shove competing travel services far down in search results and out of the market altogether.
Friday’s merger decision did not address issues of search manipulation, but signs point to further enforcement action in the months ahead. For all of us who enjoy the benefits of competition for our travel dollars, DoJ should keep its finger on the enforcement trigger.