As you may know, Google is trying to acquire ITA Software, but it has faced various hurdles, mainly led by a coalition called FairSearch, made up of travel sites. Now, the Department of Justice is looking at the deal.
Last night, CNN’s Jessica Yellin interviewed Tom Barnett, counsel to Expedia and former assistant attorney general for antitrust at the DOJ, and Adam Kovacevich, Google’s senior manager of global communications and public affairs together in what almost seemed like a court case in itself in which the audience was the jury.
Google’s stance is that it wants to provide better answers for consumers in travel search (airfares, flight times, etc.) and point them to third-party sites where they can actually purchase tickets – sites like those behind FairSearch.
The main concern of FairSearch, which the coalition hopes the DoJ will agree with, is that Google could possibly cut off access to ITA, which provides technology to other travel sites, and that given Google’s dominance in search in general, the other sites that depend on the technology will not be able to compete.
"It’s important to say, we haven’t designed this product yet, and we won’t be able to start designing it until we actually close this acquisition, so we don’t know for sure what these tools will look like," said Kovacevich. "But that said, we’re big believers that this is actually going to create more competition and more competition usually brings down prices for consumers. I think it’s also important to emphasize that we’re not going to be in the business of setting airfares. That’s up to the airlines, and we are going to be sending people directly to sites like Expedia and AmericanAirlines.com, where they can purchase these tickets."
He also said that Google will not deny service to competitors. "Google’s not going to do that," he said. "We’ve committed not to doing that, but I think also, more importantly, Tom and others have argued that ITA is somehow an essential input to some of these companies, and actually Expedia doesn’t even use ITA. Neither does Travelocity or Priceline. So the top three travel sites don’t even use ITA."
To this, Barnett responded, "With all due respect, Adam has misrepresented things. Google has not said that it would renew current licenses, that it would license continuing innovations, or that it would do so on reasonable terms. If Adam would like to say here and now publicly that Google will commit to do that to current licensees, that would address one of the concerns presented by the transaction."
Kovacevich maintains that Google plans to enter new agreements both with existing contactees and new ones, and that Google’s acquisition of ITA Software would help competition.
As Google has said in the past, competition is always a click away, and frankly they’re right. Google may dominate search, but people are still choosing which search engine they want to use. Are they not?
There is more to the conversation between Kovacevich and Barnett. You can watch the interview here.
Earlier this month, FairSearch added some new members to its coalition, including Microsoft (which obviously runs Bing and Bing Travel). Kovacevich told WebProNews, "I’m not sure there are any surprises here. Microsoft is our largest competitor and lobbies regulators against every acquisition we make…"