The Department of Justice announced today that in order for Google Inc. to proceed with its proposed acquisition of ITA Software Inc., the department will require Google to develop and license travel software, to establish internal firewall procedures and to continue software research and development. The department said that the proposed settlement will protect competition for airfare comparison and booking websites and ensure those websites using ITA’s software will be able to power their websites to compete against any airfare website Google may introduce. The department said that the acquisition, as originally proposed, would have substantially lessened competition among providers of comparative flight search websites in the United States, resulting in reduced choice and less innovation for consumers.
The department said that Google will also be required to provide mandatory arbitration under certain circumstances and provide for a formal reporting mechanism for complainants if Google acts in an unfair manner.
Under the agreement, Google must continue to develop ITA's QPX travel software and license it to third-party websites under "commercially reasonable terms", while erecting "internal firewall procedures" that will hide third-party data from the company. The web giant will also be required to provide mandatory arbitration "under certain circumstances" and provide for a formal mechanism for reporting complainants that it's acting in an unfair manner in the travel-search business.
The DoJ said that as originally proposed, Google's ITA acquisition would have "substantially lessened competition" among flight-search websites, resulting in "reduced choice and less innovation for consumers". Other travel websites, such as Kayak and Hotwire, rely on data and software from ITA.
How this shakes out over the months and years to come will be interesting. "The Department of Justice’s proposed remedy promotes robust competition for airfare websites by ensuring those websites will continue to have access to ITA’s pricing and shopping software,” reads a canned statement from Joseph Wayland, deputy assistant attorney general of the Department of Justice’s antitrust division. “The proposed settlement assures that airfare comparison and booking websites will be able to compete effectively, providing benefits to consumers.”