Google's Travel Software Buy DoJ Approved, With Restrictions

By April 09, 2011
Google travel sketch

The Department of Justice okayed Google's acquisition of ITA Software, but only if Google follows guidelines to avoid antitrust infringements.

The Department of Justice today approved Google's planned acquisition of flight information software company ITA Software. Until now, the DoJ was scrutinizing the business and filed a civil antitrust lawsuit to block the acquisition, and also filed a proposed settlement that they suggest will resolve the competitive concerns of the lawsuit.

Google's ITA press page clearly sketches out possible benefits for customers: "How cool would it be if you could type 'flights to somewhere sunny for under $500 in May' into Google and get not just a set of links but also flight times, fares and a link to sites where you can actually buy tickets quickly and easily?" According to Google, this relationship could mean higher sales volume and more airline Web site traffic.

Cambridge, MA-based ITA Software has developed QPX, which searches fares, schedules, and availability. This software has been employed by several airline and travel companies to handle complex search criteria and real-time price checking with agent and traveler interfaces.

But the DoJ projects that this acquisition will lessen competition between Google, the largest search engine in the US, and flight search Web sites. So the department has issued a set of guidelines that Google must follow in order to avoid the antitrust lawsuit:

  • license ITA's QPX software to other travel sites "on commercially reasonable terms"
  • fund research and development of QPX at similar levels that ITA has invested
  • "further develop and offer ITA’s next generation InstaSearch product to travel websites" - a near-instant flexible airfare search query tool
  • "implement firewall restrictions within the company that prevent unauthorized use of competitively sensitive information and data gathered from ITA’s customers"

Google also will be restricted from entering into agreements with airlines that will inhibit airlines' rights to share information with Google's competitors. The settlement is effective for five years.

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