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Leocha: "Google's Real Job Is to Make Their Advertisers Happy"

When impartial observers like the Wall Street Journal or European Commission investigate reports that Google frequently places its own products and interest in advertising dollars above natural search results (sometimes literally on the page), Google’s oft-repeated mantras is “Google is for users, not for Websites.”

But, when Charlie Leocha, Director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, was interviewed on LA FM radio station 89.3 KPCC’s Larry Mantle yesterday, he had this to say about the potential impact of Google’s proposed acquisition of ITA Software:

“Google’s job is, really, they’re not there to make consumers happy. Google’s real job is to make their advertisers happy… If this Google deal goes through without any restrictions, we would be left at the mercy of basically of something like an auction system. Instead of getting the answers from Google based on what would be the actual best price, we might get the answers based upon what is best for the airline or we might get sent to an airline that has actually paid Google the most money. So it’s something that Department of Justice really has to look carefully at.”

As KPCC’s online description of the segment, “Psst! Looking for a cheap flight?” says, “Google wants to buy a software program that could give it a distinct advantage over competitors.” Here’s how Tom Barnett, counsel to Expedia (a FairSearch member), explained the concerns about allowing the deal to proceed:

“…You’re not only giving [Google] power over this input that gives it leverage over all of the consumer oriented travel sites that use ITA, but you’re combining it with Google’s general search dominance that gives it the ability to steer users in the direction it wants and away from where it doesn’t want. As Charlie was saying just a few minutes ago, Google as a dominant search engine and then as it becomes dominant in travel search, would have both the incentive and the ability to steer users in the direction of the advertiser or paid sponsor that pays Google the most, not necessarily what’s in the best interest of the user.”

Does this mean Google couldn’t get into travel search another way? Barnett answered:

“If you think about this in terms of, can Google expand its offerings to [include flight search], the answer is absolutely yes. But what becomes problematic is when they do it in a way that threatens to harm competition. And what that translates into is instead of buying ITA, they should be taking a license to the ITA technology the way Orbitz and KAYAK and TripAdvisor do, or they should be developing their own flight search engine. That would increase competition and not set themselves up to dominate the space.”

To hear the full interview, click here.

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