Google's ITA Flight Data Purchase OK'd -- with Conditions
Google's $700 million acquisition of flight-data company ITA Software was approved by the Department of Justice on Friday. But the approval to buy the Cambridge, Mass.-based company comes with conditions.
Under an agreement with Justice, Google agreed to continue licensing ITA software to airline-ticket search and booking sites "on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms." It also agreed to fund R&D at the same levels ITA has in recent years.
Travel Sites Opposed
In addition, Google agreed to develop and sell the next generation of ITA software to travel web sites, with internal firewalls in place to safeguard competitors' confidential information. ITA software currently provides the airline ticket and booking information for various travel sites, including the popular Kayak.com and Hotwire.com.
Some companies that provide travel information and booking, such as Hotwire, Expedia and Sabre Holdings, had asked Justice to prohibit the acquisition because of monopoly concerns.
One concern was that Google could make the software more expensive or less available to travel sites -- or deny access completely. A related concern was that Google could provide better information and deals to travelers through its highly popular search engine.
The approval follows an eight-month investigation, and must still be submitted to judicial review. Once finalized, the settlement would be in place for five years, after which Google is free to use ITA as it sees fit. However, the government will still be able to monitor Google's travel search operations. Google must also set up a formal reporting process for any complaints that it is acting improperly.
Type in 'Flights'
The search giant has big plans for travel services. On The Official Google Blog, Senior Vice President Jeff Huber posted Friday: "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?"
As it grows and moves into more services, Google is finding itself under the watchful eye of a variety of government agencies in the U.S. and elsewhere. In the U.S., for instance, the Federal Trade Commission recently imposed a privacy audit that the company must undergo every two years for the next 20 years. The FTC's action came in response to complaints about how Google made available users' personal information when it launched its Buzz social-networking tool.
Recently, Google's efforts to create a digital library were stopped by a federal judge in New York, who said it would give too much control to the search giant. In the U.S. and other countries, the company has also been under investigation and required to provide privacy assurances for its Street View operation that has captured information and images from the world's roads.