But in a relief to Google, officials mostly left untouched the broader issue of how the world’s most popular search engine ranks its products vs. those of its competitors. This concern was raised during the government’s review of the deal because Google wants to develop its own flight search engine, and some airfare sites are worried their products could end up lower in Google’s results.
For months, Google and antitrust officials tussled over what kinds of conditions the tech company would accept to avoid a showdown in court.
“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,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
To resolve these concerns, government officials want Google to continue licensing ITA’s software to airfare Web sites that use the company’s technology, a group that includes Orbitz, Microsoft’s Bing and Kayak. Google will also have to add fire walls to prevent the company from accessing inside information from ITA’s customers that Google could use to outdo its competitors as it launches its own travel search engine.
In addition, Google must promise to continue developing ITA’s technology at a level similar to what the software firm has pursued in the past.
“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,” Joseph Wayland, deputy assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, said in a statement. “The proposed settlement assures that airfare comparison and booking websites will be able to compete effectively, providing benefits to consumers.”
Google cheered the decision, which paves the way for the company to launch its own flight search engine with the added benefit of owning ITA’s technology.
“We’re excited that the U.S. Department of Justice today approved our acquisition,” Jeff Huber, a senior vice president at Google, wrote in an official company blog post. “It’s important to us that ITA continue with business as usual, providing great service to its business partners.”
Airfare sites that criticized the deal were relieved Friday that Google cannot cut them off from using ITA’s technology, which is critical for them to operate. They also praised the formal complaint process included in the deal that will allow Google’s rivals to lodge concerns to the Justice Department, a sign that antitrust officials will continue watching the company closely.