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Google given green light to purchase ITA, albeit with certain restrictions

Back in July of 2010, Google announced its plans to purchase ITA software for $700 million dollars. The company provides flight data to airlines, travel agencies, and other travel related systems, and Google hoped to integrate this information into their search results to better compete with sites like Bing or, as some people believe, to help make Bing less attractive by not selling the data to Microsoft for use in their search engine.

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that they may probe Google for antitrust violations but were waiting to hear from the Justice Department. Today, the Justice Department has given their blessings on the purchase but has established several requirements that help protect competition within the marketplace. Amongst the requirements are:

  • Continue to fund research and development of that product at least at similar levels to what ITA has invested in recent years.
  • Continue to license ITA’s QPX software to airfare websites on commercially reasonable terms.
  • Further develop and offer ITA’s next generation InstaSearch product to travel websites.
  • Implement firewall restrictions within the company that prevent unauthorized use of competitively sensitive information and data gathered from ITA’s customers
  • Prohibited from entering into agreements with airlines that would inappropriately restrict the airlines’ right to share seat and booking class information with Google’s competitors.
  • Provide for a formal reporting mechanism for complainants if Google acts in an unfair manner.

While most of these requirements seem fair and equitable, some make little sense. For example, what is meant by “firewall restrictions?” It seems that the DOJ is requiring Google to keep all customer data from the ITA sale completely separate from their other businesses, something that sounds a bit outlandish.

The DOJ is currently requesting comments on the decision for the next 60 days. When it is formally approved, the agreement will last for five years.

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