The simmering debate over whether or not search giant Google should be allowed to buy out travel technology developer ITA Software may have finally reached a critical point Monday when an organization of merger opponents, FairSearch.org, announced that Microsoft has joined its ranks.
Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) announced its plans to acquire ITA Softwarefor approximately $799 million in cash in early July.
At the time, however, analysts said they expect the acquisition to go through significant regulatory review, primarily in the U.S. but also in Europe.
FairSearch.org was started this fall by several companies concerned that Google could leverage its dominant position in search into profitable subcategories of search such as flight scheduling.
"Google already controls the search results consumers see first. And look what they’ve done with it … Gaining control over ITA Software -- the software that powers most of Google’s competitors in air travel search -- could enable Google to dominate flight search too," a post on the FairSearch.org blogsaid.
So why would Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) join? After all, it long ago sold off its travel subsidiary Expedia.
"Microsoft ... operates the decision engine Bing and uses ITA Software to power its flight search tool," a FairSearch.org statement announcingthe added membership, said.
Microsoft issued only a brief statement regarding its membership.
"As an ITA Software customer, Microsoft's ability to continue providing innovative ways for consumers to find the best flights at the lowest prices online rests on a competitive market for travel technology. Microsoft is joining FairSearch.org to help raise awareness of how the proposed Google-ITA merger could hurt travelers by slowing innovation and contributing to higher travel costs," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.
Although Microsoft confirmed that the company is an ITA customer, however, a spokesperson declined to say whether or not it's used with Bing.
Additionally, besides Microsoft, three more travel sites also joined FairSearch.org -- U.K.-based Foundem, Paris-based LevelFrance.com, and Singapore-based ZUJI.
"The members announced today join existing FairSearch.org members Expedia Inc., and its brands Expedia.com, Hotwire and TripAdvisor; Farelogix Inc.; KAYAK, and its brand SideStep; and Sabre Holdings, and its brand Travelocity. Travelocity owns ZUJI," the FairSearch statement said.
A spokesperson for ITA Software declined to comment but Google wasn't as reticent.
"It's disappointing but not surprising that established players are defending the status quo, while we plan to provide consumers with better flight search tools and more choices and drive more traffic to travel websites," a Google spokesperson told InternetNews.comin an e-mail.