Google just delivered a wake-up call to itinerary management services such as TripIt, WorldMate and TripCase, and flight-tracking apps like FlightTrack and GateGuru, by testing a feature that searches Gmail accounts for flight reservations and flight-status updates, and then delivers them in personalized Google search results.
The Google experiment raises a ton of issues, including questions about intellectual property, privacy and security, but more on that below.
Google detailed its search experiment here, indicating that when all of its features are rolled out, Gmail users will be able to use Google search to find their present and past flight reservations and flight-status updates, as well as hotel, restaurant and event reservations.
Users can also use the service to track packages and other purchases.
If you are signed into your Google accounts, you can simply search “my reservations” for past and current flight and hotel reservations like this:
For now the service isn’t as smooth as it can be. Even though I was signed into my American Airlines and United Airlines frequent flyer accounts, the Google search results led me to the American and United websites, where I would have to sign in again to retrieve my reservations’ information.
And, if I had some current or future flight reservations, and the airlines sent updates to my Gmail account, then Google says it would have been able to retrieve them and deliver them to my Google search results.
Google has plans to make this flight, hotel, restaurant (from OpenTable) and event (from Ticketmaster and Eventbrite) reservation information available to Google users on desktops, smartphones and tablets.
The service is currently available in English in the U.S. for people who have Gmail accounts. It is not available yet for Google Apps accounts.
The experiment is in its infancy, but it could eventually take some of the thrill out of itinerary management and flight-tracking services, most of which are valuable because they deposit and neatly combine all of your reservation information into one itinerary.
Google isn’t really consolidating all of the information yet, so that is a drawback for now.
In some ways, Google’s new reservation-search service takes a page from TripIt — but Google also goes a step further.
TripIt users can email their travel confirmations to email@example.com, but they can also opt into TripIt’s auto import service, which scans Gmail and Google Apps accounts several times daily for new reservations.
Google’s new service doesn’t constantly monitor your reservations, but scans Gmail accounts when a user starts a search, and then spills them out right onto your desktop or mobile device without having to open an app.
The new Google service raises some intellectual property issues. Will airlines, hotels and restaurants want Google profiting from their proprietary information? And, will individuals want this, as well?
After all, Google is running advertisements on the personalized search results pages with users’ flight, hotel and restaurant reservations, and undoubtedly will eventually monetize it in other ways.
And, how secure will it be to have Google peruse users’ Gmail accounts and then display reservation information on the Web? The airline and hotel confirmation information is only designed to be displayed in search results to the relevant individual, but what if something goes wrong?
That seems like a system that almost inevitably will lead to abuse or unwitting release of people’s personal information.
These are very early days for Google’s new service, but as it becomes more refined, it could become a major challenge to itinerary management and flight-tracking services, and make Google an even more integral part of your travel plans.