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article imageRivals angry at Google for giving itself top billing in search

By Leigh Goessl     Dec 28, 2011 in Internet
Travel websites are angered that Google's product, Google Flight, is being given preferential placement in flight search results.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, competitors say Google is "abusing its power in Web search" to give its own product the best visibility.
This month Google reportedly began placing its new travel search product, Google Flight, above competitors such as Expedia, Kayak, Orbitz and Priceline in results for flight travel queries rather than organic searches determining results.
WSJ reported web analytics firm Compete Inc. said heavy weight travel sites were pushed further down the page and these sites rely on Google for 10 to 20 percent of their traffic. Users generally prefer not to do a lot of scrolling and chances are their eye will go to the top search results, which means the "middle men" booking sites will likely lose traffic.
As a powerful entity, Google maintains a lot of control over various areas of industry through its primary product, search, however as the company branches out with products in other markets, this raises some questions because businesses do heavily rely on Google since it is the dominant search engine consumers use. If Google gives its own products preferential treatment, this raises potential antitrust issues.
Can Google appropriately maintain balance and remain unbiased?
Directing travelers to Google flight is a bonus for airlines because it drives travelers away from third party booking websites and brings searchers directly to the airline websites instead. If third party booking sites want to appear prominently, they'll have to pay Google premium advertising fees.
Last year Google faced inquiry from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) when the search company looked to acquire ITA Software Inc., which powers not only Google's new tool, but many of its competitor travel websites.
The WSJ report said the search engine giant had to make "several concessions" before DOJ gave Google the go-ahead to purchase in April 2011. At the time Google had said the company would "build tools that drive more traffic to airline and online travel agency sites."
WSJ said, "Competitors say that Google is now violating the spirit of that commitment." Google has acknowledged this, with last month Jeremy Wertheimer, ITA's founder and a current Google vice president, stating airlines said they would not provide Google with travel data if the search linked to online booking agencies.
It is in the best interest of airlines for booking sites to be pushed lower in search results because they have to pay commissions to third parties, whereas direct bookings are much cheaper for them. Consumers also do not lose because they get relevant information streamed right to them in a convenient fashion. Travel booking websites, on the other hand, will suffer, unless they are willing to pay for those advertisements to boost their visibility.
Mashable reported Google responded to an email which said, “When people come to Google looking for travel information, our goal is to show them the most relevant results as quickly as possible,” Google spokesman Sean Carlson wrote. “The response to our new flights feature has been overwhelmingly positive, and we’re continuing to focus on developing and delivering the best possible experience for our users.”
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