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Google Gets Legal Clearance To Buy ITA

The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Friday that it conditionally approved Google's acquisition bid for ITA Software Inc., a maker of software used by air-travel Web sites.

The acquisition bid had been opposed by a coalition of businesses, called "FairSearch.org," that included Microsoft, Expedia.com, Kayak and Sabre Holdings (Travelocity), among others. However, FairSearch.org described the DoJ's conditional agreement as "a clear win for consumers and competition in the marketplace." The organization's shift appears due to the stringent conditions that were placed on Google by the Justice Department.

The department is requiring that Google agree to a settlement to proceed with the acquisition of ITA Software. At the same time, it filed a civil antitrust lawsuit to block the acquisition should Google not follow the terms of the settlement.

Google, under the DoJ's terms, will be compelled to continue licensing ITA's QPX software to Websites "on commercially reasonable terms." Google also will have to fund continuing R&D costs and develop ITA's next-generation InstaSearch product, which isn't currently available yet. Lastly, Google will have to set up a firewall to restrict its use of commercially sensitive information gleaned through the ITA software. It also can't restrict airline-provided booking and seating information from reaching competitors.

FairSearch.org, while praising the Department of Justice's settlement terms, indicated that it will continue to serve as a "watchdog" over Google.

"We also urge lawmakers and enforcers in the U.S. and elsewhere to continue investigating the many concerns that have been raised about Google's dominance in search and search advertising, particularly its incentive to abuse that power in new vertical markets to the detriment of consumers," FairSearch.org stated in a press release.

Google simply issued a cheerful blog post, omitting specific mention of the Department of Justice's terms. The company indicated that it would continue to provide the service to ITA's business partners, honoring existing contracts "into 2016" and licensing the software to new customers "into 2016," including other travel sites.

Microsoft, in addition to battling Google through FairSearch.org, has joined as a plaintiff in a European Commission inquiry investigating alleged anticompetitive search-advertising practices by Google in European countries.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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