Google’s Travel Opponents Hoping Bigger Antitrust Case Will Soon Follow

One area that the Justice Department’s Google-ITA settlement didn’t cover was so-called “search neutrality.” In a nutshell, this is the misguided notion that Google shouldn’t be permitted to send traffic to its own properties. In the extreme it argues that the government should regulate Google’s algorithm as well.

While the term “search neutrality” carries a certain abstract appeal, as a practical matter it’s a utterly unworkable.

Just after the DOJ-ITA release went out this morning the collection of online travel companies were celebrating “victory” on behalf of consumers. Later on a conference call with reporters they expressed the hope that the DOJ-ITA action was just the beginning of a broader antitrust case against Google.

Fear of a Google Travel Vertical

In particular, they want to restrain Google’s ability to send traffic to an anticipated travel vertical. According to a write up in PaidContent:

Asked why they’re happy when Google is touting the deal’s approval as a win, Tom Barnett, a lawyer with Expedia, said: “As antitrust officials look at those issues, there’s some telling signs that give you an indication of what may come… They took an enforcement action in a vertical merger. That’s unusual. They did that because of Google’s power in search dominance” . . . “I do think there’s sufficient basis to open a broader investigation”  . . . “Google may well be using its dominance in general search engine to foreclose the ability of other sites to get visibility on the web, and to steer users to Google’s own sites, in a way that might be anti-competitive.”

The argument being made by Expedia lawyer Barnett above is that Google’s very ability to “steer users to [its] own sites” is anti-competitive. This is the crux of “search neutrality.”

Because it is a flawed principle it will never be “enacted” or required by regulators, who really don’t want to intervene in the SERP. One could hypothetically imagine a periodic audit to make sure that Google wasn’t punishing selected competitors. However denying Google the ability to send traffic to Google Maps or News or YouTube or a future Google Travel deprives consumers of choice more than it preserves competition.

What if Google were to build a great travel site? Wouldn’t consumers want access to it? Shouldn’t Google be able to expose it?

No Guarantee of Success for Google

Of course there’s no guarantee that Google will in fact build a great travel site. Google Finance has only a fraction of the usage of Yahoo Finance, despite the fact that Google Finance is the first in the list of results that respond to stock ticker queries.

Though it’s a powerful way consumers discover information, Google isn’t the only way to build a brand or get traffic. Google’s travel competitors can continue to thrive by building better products and promoting them in creative ways, including with social media.

They should stop longing for “search neutrality” and just build better sites and consumer experiences.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Google: Critics | Google: Legal | Legal: Regulation


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • Rick Bucich

    It wasn’t too long ago actions by the travel industry killed off most travel agencies. Business models evolve, get used to it.

Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide