Google Flight Search, at first only providing glimpses if itself if one searched for it has now come front and center. If anyone had any doubt that Google is skewing its “search” results to help itself, there cannot be any doubt now.
Search for flights from New York to Chicago, or Orlando to Los Angeles, or Seattle to Atlanta and the top “natural” search result will be Google Flight Search. It is an amazing coincidence that Google’s Flight Search comes up first in its own search.
Google’s vaunted search engine is not doing any searching for that first position, Google has become another retailer working to crush the competition. Under the guise of airline search, Google is presenting self-serving results with the intent to put competitors, who once paid them for ads based on search, out of business.
Worse, the Google Flight Search result that sits at the top of the faux search results isn’t even labeled “advertisement,” which it sure as heck it. Consumers are being misled today and tomorrow, after Google puts competitors out of business, they will find themselves being fleeced.
Google’s minions in Washington, DC, who will undoubtedly find themselves called before Congress, the FTC and the Department of Justice (DOJ) will opine that they are simply giving passengers what they want — answers.
Last summer, when the Consumer Travel Alliance discussed this exact situation with Google lobbyists during the DOJ hearings about their purchase of ITA Software that has become Google Flight Search, they claimed, “Search has changed.” In the next breath, the young Googlistas blurted, “The public doesn’t want a list of appropriate sites, they want answers.”
In the world according to Google, the company that keeps every single one of our emails and search engine queries that pass through their systems in cavernous server farms forever, is giving the public exactly what they want — answers.
What can be wrong with that?
Maybe there can be more than only the Google answer. Maybe the answer isn’t found in a Google-operated and Google-controlled subsidiary.
In the warped world of Google, that answer is simply what Google wants us to see. Gone are the days, when Google search produced relatively balanced results based on a complex and secret algorithm resulting in the all-important first-search position.
Only weeks ago users had the opportunity at the top of Google search to click on further flight searches that might be conducted by Orbitz, Expedia, Kayak, Travelocity or Priceline. Not any more.
Today, at the bottom of that first search finding, a link titled, “More Google flight search results” is displayed. After clicking on that link and only at the bottom of the next page does Google deign to place an ad box for any if its competitors. In fact, according to the Google VP in charge of Flight Search, it specifically excludes any results that might offend the airlines such as negotiated airfares offered by low-fare travel agencies.
The Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA), last week raised this issue with DOT noting that Google’s control of search and their announced limits on airline flight search constituted a form of screen bias aimed at the public. CTA argued that Google Flight Search was only serving up, in prime positions, what Google wanted the public to read. The myth of a disembodied algorithm guiding search was a fantasy and therefor inherently biased against fully competitive information sharing. CTA urged DOT to keep this question of Google’s display of search results and potential preferencing on their radar screen and look at it in terms of their mandate to protect the public from unfair and deceptive practices.
Sen. Herb Kohl, Chairman, and Sen. Mike Lee, Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competitive Policy and Consumers Rights, have sent a letterto the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission about their “competition concerns arising from the business practices of the world’s leading search engine, Google Inc. (Google).” Their letter notes:
- Given the scope of Google’s market share in general Internet search, a key question is whether Google is using its market power to steer users to its own web products or secondary services and discriminating against other websites with which it competes.
Rather than act as an unbiased broker of search results, Google’s search results appear to favor the company’s own web products and services. Given Google’s dominant market share in Internet search, any such bias of preferencing would raise serious questions as to whether Google is seeking to leverage its search dominance into adjacent markets, in a manner potentially contrary to antitrust law.
Google has crossed the creepy line, as Google Chairman and Former CEO Eric Schmidt calls it. The forces of the government, slow to move into action, will now begin the series of studies and hearings that hopefully will change the face of Google and separate its search functions from its retail arm. The free market and consumers will be better off once this unholy union of search knowledge with retail power is broken asunder.