Is Google playing unfair in online travel?

One of the big fears over Google’s purchase earlier this year of ITA Software was that the search giant would favor its own travel search results when consumers were looking to purchase tickets. Now, that fear is becoming a reality.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal today, Google is now showcasing its own travel search results over those of rivals such as Kayak, Expedia and Orbitz. Google displays flight information in a chart that appears when users do searches for terms such as “SEA to CLT” or “Seattle to San Francisco flights.”

In most cases, the search results link directly to the airlines’ Web sites, thus bypassing many of the big online travel agencies.

As you can imagine, many of those online travel companies which opposed the acquisition of ITA in the first place and pushed the Department of Justice to limit the scope of the deal, aren’t too happy about the situation.

“It’s concerning that they said that during a government investigation as a core argument and then just sort of ignored it,” Kayak Chief Marketing Officer Robert Birge tells the Journal. “It would be nice to have a company that holds itself up as a light of corporate morality to actually stand by what they say.”

As part of a settlement earlier this year, the DOJ wrote that the deal would “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.”

Sites such as Kayak and Expedia rely on Google for a large percentage of their traffic, with Compete.com estimating that it drives between 10 and 20 percent of traffic.

Google purchased ITA earlier this year for $700 million after scrutiny from the DOJ.

As Seattle startup veteran Galen Ward wrote a few years back, Google often abuses its power by promoting “inferior services” in search results. Ward cited a number of instances where this has occurred, from YouTube to Google Checkout to Google Maps.

  • http://wac6.com/ William Carleton

    “Corporate morality” is an oxymoron and if democracy is to be re-vitalized in America instead of just remaining a key export, we’ll stop with the metaphors that imbue corporations with human qualities (speech is the other especially pernicious one). IMHO.

  • Guest

    When I want to find a flight, I expect Google to find me one. In my opinion this is a far superior experience compared with the previous behavior in which Google sends me to content farms that spam “SEA to CLT” and thousands of other combinations into Google’s index. These are not relevant results.

    Google is not the arbiter of which services are inferior or superior. I am. Google returns the data I’m looking for and, in so doing, it provides value.

    You want morality? Go to church. I go to Google for results.