CNN Dec. 29 aired a debate between a Google spokesperson and an attorney representing FairSearch.org, the coalition forged by Expedia, Kayak and Orbitx to halt Google's $700 million bid for ITA Software.
Long story short: Google bid to buy ITA July 1 to acquire the software maker's wealth of data on airfare pricing and schedules.
Several online travel companies that use this software fear Google will tightly manage the ITA data, jacking up fees versus rivals that are also looking to surface flight info for users.
These companies created FairSearch.org last fall to urge the Justice Department, which is investigating the bid, to block the deal.
Adam Kovacevich, whom I met earlier this year when he did a press meet and greet in Manhattan, spoke for Google. Tom Barnett, a lawyer representing Expedia who also headed the DOJ's antitrust division under George W. Bush's administration, opposed the deal.
Kovacevich basically argued Google's flight search information, well, sucks as it stands today. (In Google's parlance, Kovacevich officially stated, "You're not going to get a very good answer" if you use a search engine such as Google or Bing to find flight info.)
Google, he said, wants to use ITA's software to send consumers looking for flight info to Expedia, Travelocity, etc., to buy a ticket.
Barnett countered that the issue is not Google aggregating flight info, but how it's going about it. Barnett said Google could just create its own travel product or license the data from ITA like everyone else does.
He argued that Google could deny access to the software to the FairSearch.org members, which with all of the hullabaloo and attention would be an utterly foolish thing to do, providing fodder for Google critics the world over.
Barnett's big sticking point is that Google has never promised to renew existing contracts ITA holds with its customers. He pressed Kovacevich to do so on CNN; Kovacevich promised Google would negotiate new contracts with those customers.
Barnett, trying to trap Kovacevich, said existing ITA customers have approached Google to negotiate new deals and were refused. This was never resolved on air.
The arguments were pretty tame and the issue of Google getting too big certainly came up again. I'll let you run through it yourself here if you're interested:
More and more, I'm convinced the members don't necessarily expect the DOJ to block the deal. But what the DOJ will most certainly do is impose restrictions on how Google uses the data to make sure it does so in the spirit of fair competition.
The New York Times noted:
"While Google has said it will license the technology, regulators could extract commitments from the company to ensure that it does so at a fair cost and without degrading the technology."
And I'm fine with that as a precautionary measure, so long as Google and the FairSearch.org parties can coexist peacefully and everyone wins.
I sure would like to have better flight info surface on Google. Right now Bing is the thing for that.
Happy New Year. Stay tuned Monday for my 2011 expectations for Google.