Google has long been making the transition from business facilitator to market competitor, in a variety of industries. The latest of its initiatives is Google Flights, which according to one report is offering competition to travel deal sites like Expedia, Orbitz Worldwide, and Priceline.
Since the debut of Google Flights, which compares travel deals and gives users exclusive links to the best prices on airline flights and hotels, flight deal competitors are crying foul for not featuring them in searches as before.
So the question becomes, is it fair when a search engine that functions as one of the biggest business discovery engines on the Web itself becomes a competitive business force? Can companies like Expedia, Orbitz, and Priceline complain that Google is directing traffic away from their websites toward Google Flights with its own search engine?
Whether it makes sense or not, such complaints are being made.
Google was investigated for breach of antitrust laws last year by the U.S. Justice Department, over plans to acquire flight data-management software company ITA, and six months ago came under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is making inquiries as to whether Google could remain unbiased as a search engine while itself competing in several markets the business of which is relevant to search traffic.
Indeed, one of the assurances made by Google to the Justice Dept. during conclusions of their investigations was that their search engine would continue to provide links to other online airline deals sites, something that Google has yet to make good on.
A Google representative has since answered for this discrepancy by indicating that airlines would not offer them data on their flights, if they provided links to other travel deal sites via their search. True, this would put Google in between a rock and a hard place concerning their assurances to the DOJ, but it also conveniently is a difficulty that applies much more seriously to their travel deal competitors.
Another example of Google's increasing role as gatekeeper, the company rolled out a significant update to its search function in Paril 2011, an update called "Panda" the function of which is to weed out what it deems to be lower quality sites, giving greater importance to social networking sites and news sites. And understandably, the volume of the protests made by Internet companies after Google Panda dropped seemed to correlate pretty closely to the size of the company complaining.
As of yet, Google Flights only works with domestic flights but the company has indicated that it would soon offer information for international flights as well.