Competitors upset at Google promoting own flight results above others
Google began promoting its new flight search tool above those of third-party airline booking sites earlier this month. This has caused rivals to claim that Google is “violating the spirit” of a commitment it made to the Department of Justice when it acquired travel software company ITA Software, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
Google’s purchase of ITA, which was completed in April, was cleared by the DOJ after Google promised to make travel data available to competitors and build tools to drive more traffic to airline and online travel agency sites. However, the DOJ did not require Google to link directly to rival travel sites, and the results have begun to upset competitors.
If you search Google for something like “Boston to LA flight,” you get a chart showing the cheapest flights from a variety of airlines displayed at the top of the results, just below ads that link directly to airline sites like JetBlue and Southwest. Links to Orbtiz, Expedia and other travel sites appear just below Google’s flight search tool, but without actual flight information displayed on the search results page. (Microsoft does the same with its own travel results on Bing.)
A Kayak executive speaking to the Journal claims Google “just sort of ignored” the agreement it made to drive more traffic to online travel agencies, but Google said it did so out of necessity. “Google acknowledges it has failed to make good on assurances it would link to the travel sites, but the company says it had no choice,” wrote the Journal. ITA founder and Google VP Jeremy Wertheimer was also quoted saying that “[t]he airlines told us that they would not give us [travel data]” if the company provided booking links to travel agencies, though he claimed the company still wants to be able to “include travel sites.”
Even outside the travel industry, Google competitors have claimed that the search engine rigs its results to promote its own services above those of rivals’. The claims were the subject of a recent Senate antitrust hearing.