Skift Take

Google's advertising business sucked the life out of Tripadvisor and others' free search results. The issue of Google's alleged search bias and how it impacts the travel industry is not going away.

A federal judge in the District of Columbia dismissed antitrust claims by dozens of states and the U.S. Department of Justice that the design of Google search results amounted to anticompetitive behavior against rivals ranging from Expedia to Yelp, citing a lack of evidence.

In granting Google’s summary judgment Friday, Judge Amit Mehta wrote: “In sum, the court holds that Plaintiffs have not shown that there is a genuine dispute of material fact that would warrant a trial to determine whether Google’s treatment of SVPs [specialized vertical providers such as travel and retail] has anticompetitive effects in the general search and related general-search ad markets. Accordingly, the court grants Google summary judgment as to those portions of the Colorado Plaintiffs’ claims that rest on Google’s conduct directed at SVPs.”

The judge basically said that arguments alleging Google search bias toward its own products — such as Google Hotels and Google Flights — to the detriment of competitors’ businesses was based on opinion rather than evidence of material harm.

However, other elements of the case relating to Google’s alleged anticompetitive behavior related to exclusive Android distribution agreements with smartphone companies will be heard in the trial, which is slated to get under way September 12.

“We appreciate the Court’s careful consideration and decision to dismiss claims regarding the design of Google Search,” a Google statement read. “Our engineers build Search to provide the best results and help you quickly find what you’re looking for. People have more ways than ever to access information, and they choose to use Google because it’s helpful. We look forward to showing at trial that promoting and distributing our services is both legal and pro-competitive.”  

Some 38 states, spearheaded by Colorado and Nebraska, and joined by the Department of Justice, sued Google in 2020 alleging it carried out anticompetitvive practices related to search and advertising.

Late last month, Senators Lindsey Graham, the Republican from South Carolina, and Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, penned a New York Times opinion piece arguing that Google Flights and Google Hotels “suppress competition.”

In 2017, the European Commission fined Google 2.42 billion euros, finding that the search engine abused its dominant position in search to bias results toward its own shopping advertising business over that of competitors.

This is a developing story. We are reaching out to travel businesses to get their reaction. Check back for updates.

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Tags: alphabet, android, antitrust, expedia, google, lawsuits, litigation, yelp

Photo credit: Google headquarters. Source: Zeyi Fan/Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/fanzeyi/28285232524 Zeyi Fan / Flickr

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