Travel companies speaking out against the all-powerful Google walk a thin line because they are dependent on Google to widely varying degrees. They now have an apparent ally in the European Commission while the U.S. FTC opted out.
The European Union is filing antitrust charges against Google after a multi-year investigation and despite the fact that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission reviewed much of the same allegations and, in a controversial move, took no action.
The travel industry’s antitrust beef with Google is similar to those of other ecommerce sites such as Amazon.
The most significant complaint over the last few years from the likes of Expedia, Kayak, TripAdvisor, Skoosh, and others is that Google favors its own flight, hotel and restaurant products over competitors’ in Google search results and therefore unfairly uses its overwhelming search market share to stymie competition by directing consumers to Google’s products instead of rivals’ websites.
As one critic puts it: “Google is powering local search with Google+ rather than relying on its powerful ranking algorithms to find the most helpful results for consumers. The result is that users are being steered toward less useful relevant results when they perform searches. This breaks Google’s #1 promise to users (Focus on the user ) and reduces incentives for innovation in Europe.”
In a presentation at an investors conference in New York on March 11, Yelp CFO Rob Krolik discussed the alleged roadblocks that Google presents to Yelp’s users.
Yelp and TripAdvisor complained several years ago that Google illegally scraped their user reviews without authorization and threatened to remove their organic search results from the Google search engine if they didn’t fall into line. The U.S. FTC staff agreed in 2013 with TripAdvisor’s and Yelp’s assertions to Congress that Google had threatened to remove the two companies from the Google search engine if they didn’t agree to let Google display their reviews in Google Places, but the FTC took no action.
Numerous travel companies, including Expedia and Kayak attempted to block Google’s $700 million acquisition of ITA Software and its flight search services in 2011. That acquisition led to a consent agreement between Google and the U.S. Department of Justice and does not appear to be an issue in the European Commission investigation.
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Tags: antitrust, european union, expedia, ftc, google, tripadvisor
Photo credit: A neon sign at a new Google office in Toronto. Mark Blinch / Reuters