The U.S. Department of Justice has approved Google’s acquisition of ITA Software, which provides a solution for flight information used by numerous travel sites, and has been the subject of a great deal of controversy related to competition.
There are some stipulations, however. The DoJ said:
…in order for Google Inc. to proceed with its proposed acquisition of ITA Software Inc., the department will require Google to develop and license travel software, to establish internal firewall procedures and to continue software research and development. The department said that the proposed settlement will protect competition for airfare comparison and booking websites and ensure those websites using ITA’s software will be able to power their websites to compete against any airfare website Google may introduce. The department said that the acquisition, as originally proposed, would have substantially lessened competition among providers of comparative flight search websites in the United States, resulting in reduced choice and less innovation for consumers.
Google will also be required to provide “mandatory arbitration under certain circumstances” and a “formal reporting mechanism for complainants if Google acts in an unfair manner.”
“The Department of Justice’s proposed remedy promotes robust competition for airfare websites by ensuring those websites will continue to have access to ITA’s pricing and shopping software,” said Joseph Wayland, Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. “The proposed settlement assures that airfare comparison and booking websites will be able to compete effectively, providing benefits to consumers.”
Jeff Huber, Google’s Senior Vice President, Commerce and Local said:
It’s important to us that ITA continue with business as usual, providing great service to its business partners. We indicated last July that we would honor ITA’s existing contracts. Today we’ve formally committed to let ITA’s customers extend their contracts into 2016. We’ve also agreed to let both current and new customers license ITA’s QPX software on “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms” into 2016—along with related commitments aimed at making ITA’s technology available to other travel sites.
We’re moving to close this acquisition as soon as possible, and then we’ll start the important work of bringing our teams and products together. We’re confident that by combining ITA’s expertise with Google’s technology we’ll be able to develop exciting new flight search tools for all our users. Up, up and away!
The FairSearch Colaition, which was formed with the sole purpose of seeing this acquisitition blocked, put out the following statement:
Today’s decision by the Justice Department to challenge Google’s acquisition of ITA Software is a clear win for consumers. The Department concluded Google’s unrestricted control over ITA’s key flight search technology would have violated the antitrust laws. By putting in place strong, ongoing oversight and enforcement tools, the Department has ensured that consumers will continue to benefit from vibrant competition and innovation in travel search. While this enforcement action is an important victory, Google’s abuse of its search dominance still threatens competition and consumers in many critical areas of online services. Antitrust enforcers and lawmakers in the U.S. and elsewhere must remain vigilant in their investigation of these larger concerns and take whatever further enforcement actions are needed to protect consumers.
An interesting side story here is that the DoJ’s Antitrust Division actually filed a suit to block the acquisition at the same time the DoJ filed its proposal. If approved by the court, however, the proposal would resolve the concerns addressed in the suit.