It is said that the Justice Department is busy preparing legal papers which could be used in a court challenge should it decide to go ahead with opposing a $700 million deal which would see the search engine giant take over ITA Software.
ITA’s software powers flight comparison sites such as Kayak, SideStep and Hotwire as well as Microsoft-owned search engine Bing, giving rise to accusations of anti-competitiveness, according to the WSJ.
It has not yet been decided whether the challenge will go ahead, though the Justice Department has up thirty days from when Google passed over all information pertaining to the deal. It is said by sources that it is expected a decision will be made either at the end of this month or the start of February.
While Google has only ever been knocked back for one deal, it is believed that the Justice Department is beginning to take a more aggressive stance.
If the department does decide to push on with its challenge then it will add to Google’s woes, as it is currently facing an antitrust investigation by European regulators, as well as scrutiny from other federal and state regulators in the US.
“While we continue to cooperate with the Justice Department’s review, we are ultimately confident that this acquisition will increase competition,” said a Google statement.
However, critics are worried that the deal could mean Google gains an unfair advantage in the $80 billion online travel market by withholding access to important ITA technology, leading to government lawyers querying executives in the industry as to what the effects may be.
It is also feared that Google could direct search engine traffic away from rival firms, and towards a travel search service it plans to build with ITA’s software.
Google maintains that antitrust issues are not raised as it doesn’t compete with ITA, while the three most popular travel sites, Expedia, Priceline and Travelocity, use data provided by ITA competitors.
Furthermore Google states that many in the industry actually support the deal.
But critics of Google are likely to be suspicious of the deal, as it has been suggested it has a history of directing users to its own, bringing up links to its own business listings above other results, though Google of course denies this is the case.