It looks like it's not just UK politicians that are preoccupied with the entirely subjective, vague and useless term ‘fair'. A coalition of online travel companies has got together to form fairsearch.org, with the principal aim of lobbying to get the Google acquisition of ITA blocked on competition grounds.
Google announced the proposed acquisition back in July. The objective was to add further value to Google search results by adding travel and accommodation info and services to relevant searches.
Right now if, for example, you Google ‘London', the first result you get is a Google Maps result and a bunch of links to Google searches for hotels, restaurants, etc. Ultimately these links lead you to third party sites, but the assumption is that, after the ITA acquisition goes through, you will be able to do more of this stuff directly through Google.
This would obviously take a lot of traffic and business away from said third party sites, which is why they've got together to oppose it. The likes of Expedia, TripAdvisor and Travelocity have formed fairsearch.org. The sub-head of the press release announcing the group says: "Urge Justice Department to Challenge Google-ITA Deal," so that's clear enough.
The gripe is, of course, to do with competition. "Combining Google and ITA - the dominant providers of web search and flight search technology, respectively - raises some serious concerns for travelers and the online travel industry as a whole," said Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Expedia. "We support this coalition because we believe consumers deserve transparency, and that they - not search engines - should choose winners and losers in online travel."
Funnily enough, Google sees things rather differently. Senior product manager Andrew Silverman wasted little time in blogging on the matter in a post entitled "Giving users the best answer, and competing fair and square in travel search".
As you can imagine, Google is insisting this acquisition will be good for consumers, and Silverman addressed some of the claims made by fairsearch.org. He pointed out that Google and ITA don't currently compete, and that ITA doesn't set prices or sell tickets. He reflected that the three biggest travel sites in the US all use data provided by ITA's competitors, and stressed that Google has no plans to sell tickets, only to drive traffic to sites that do.
Google's answers all seem reasonable - why should it be prevented from making it easier to find and book travel information online? But the size and online dominance of the company make us feel instinctively nervous about any major acquisition Google makes these days. Our fears about AdMob were only allayed by Apple's acquisition and there is a danger that this move could give Google a worryingly high level of influence over travel search.