And then, one recent Sunday afternoon, I posted a trailer for my new book, “Scammed,” on YouTube. Within a few minutes, the video was deleted — erroneously tagged as spam by Google. (With a title like “Scammed,” that’s an easy mistake to make.) But then YouTube pulled my entire channel down without notice. And then my Gmail account went dark. Within a few minutes, my entire digital life had been suspended.
I managed to restore my e-mail account the same day, but my YouTube channel remained offline for three days, even though I made repeated attempts to persuade Google to review the arbitrary takedown. Google eventually restored my account, but only after I contacted it in an official capacity. The company apologized for the deletion but would not offer an explanation for its actions on the record, citing its policy of not discussing individual cases.
I learned an important lesson about how important Google is to my everyday life. I can’t function without it. There’s no viable alternative to many of its services.
I can’t imagine this breathtaking dominance escaping the attention of regulators much longer. But if it does — if Google takes over travel — there could be serious and long-lasting consequences that could harm consumers and businesses. Imagine what might happen to an airline or hotel company that disagrees with the way Google prices its products when it holds a commanding market share in travel? It could be cut off from millions of customers with a single keystroke.
What if Google knocks off one or two online travel agencies, or a company such as Kayak, which searches multiple sites for flights? Where do we go when our only viable option is Google? What would happen to innovation when one company controls so much?
“Consumers would pay higher prices for airfares and other products and services as a result of Google coming to dominate the online travel market,” predicts Ben Hammer, a spokesman for FairSearch, a coalition of travel companies that compete with Google.
Do we really want to live in that world?
Elliott is National Geographic Traveler magazine’s reader advocate and the author of “Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals.” E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.