Barnett and Birge Discuss the Google ITA Deal
Barnett inferred that this is the DOJ's way of keeping the decks clear for a further investigation and enforcement action so that Google can't claim that the issue has been resolved. Another issue Barnett noted was unusual was that it ordered Google to report to the DOJ any complaints that it receives related to complying with the DOJ's proposed decree for travel search.Birge added that the DOJ's proposed consent decree comprised 22 pages of stringent and fairly unprecedented restrictions, over 9 months since Google revealed its bid last July 1. These restrictions included major points that Google protested, including granting licensees access to ITA technology in a normal business context. "There are several material points that they did not want to do and the government told them that if you do not do these things, this deal is in violation of antitrust," Birge said. All of this leads Barnett and Birge to conclude that the DOJ is taking a harder look at Google, certainly in the travel search sector, and possibly in the broader search sphere. Moreover, FairSearch.org isn't going away even though it has achieved what it set out to do in calling the DOJ's attention to the competitive threats of Google's ITA bid. Barnett said the FairSearch.org member companies realized over the course of their own investigation into Google's travel search practices that some of the antitrust concerns were not unique to the ITA deal. For example, he pointed to Google's ability to use Google.com as a platform to funnel hits to its own Web services over those of competing search services. Barnett said ITA flight search could be combined with Google.com to dominate the online travel search space. This echoes the complaints vertical search engines and advertisers are currently making against Google in Europe and Texas. Search Engine Land points out the call to regulate Google's results pages is unrealistic because it will impair consumer choice.
"That is not a standard provision in a DOJ antitrust decree and it signals a continuing interest and a desire to set up a mechanism that will help channel information to the department on an ongoing basis," Barnett said.