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Google Gets ITA & Maybe More Trouble

The Justice Department isn’t going to oppose its $700 million acquisition of ITA Software

Google got its way. The Justice Department isn’t going to oppose its $700 million acquisition of ITA Software, which provides the data for airline tickets to airlines and online travel companies, a purchase the agency has been reviewing since last July. But unlike Google’s equally opposed $3.2 billion acquisition of DoubleClick, the display ad house, in 2008 or its $750 million acquisition of AdMob, the mobile ad company, last year, the DOJ put strings on this one.

Google had to sign a consent decree agreeing to government-monitored compulsory licensing to ensure that competitors continue to get ITA’s services on fair and reasonable terms and a firewall preventing it from peeking at the data other people run on ITA’s servers. It must also invest in new ITA products that would also be licensed to rivals and the submit any disputes to binding arbitration.

It has to report any complaints to the DOJ and publish a copy of the five- year consent decree on its web site once it’s approved by a judge.

The DOJ agreed with the FairSearch coalition that formed to oppose the acquisition that the way the deal was originally structured “would have substantially lessened competition among providers of comparative flight search web sites in the United States, resulting in reduced choice and less innovation for consumers.”

Google said it’s “moving to close this acquisition as soon as possible.”

Apparently it expects to make it possible for travelers to type the words “flights to somewhere sunny for under $500 in May into Google” and get back the flight times, fares and links to sites where they can buy the tickets. What’s not clear is where competitive search results will fall, an abiding fear of FairSearch.

Already under investigation for antitrust in Europe, Google could face a broad parallel investigation of its dominant search business in the US by either the DOJ or the Federal Trade Commission.

Bloomberg last week suggested that the FTC was itching to open a Google probe and was waiting to see how the Justice Department handled the ITA

matter. Continuous government monitoring of Google’s new consent decree could also yield the DOJ grounds for a case as happened with Microsoft precipitating its decline as an industry force.

Ten days ago Microsoft filed a formal complaint with the Europe Commission charging Google with unfair competition in search, online advertising and smartphone software and according to Bloomberg the EC’s antitrust czar Joaquin Almunia said Friday that he expects more complaints to be lodged.

Before Microsoft complained, something it’s never done before, the EC’s initial probe into whether the search giant was skewing its search results in favor of its own products produced 500 responses to questionnaires the agency sent to web companies, publishers and advertisers, Alumunia said

Google and its infamous Buzz social network service just settled FTC charges of deceptive privacy practices and violating its own privacy promises, agreeing to implement a “comprehensive privacy program” and submit to third-party privacy audits every two years for the next 20 years.

Google abandoned an alliance with Yahoo in 2008 when the Justice Department made it clear it would sue.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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