At the PhoCusWright Travel Conference in Hollywood, Florida, the VP for travel at Google announced that the search engine giant has decided to exclude online travel agencies such as Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity and metasearch sites like Kayak from their flight search results. A search on Google will only return airline results.
Jeremy Wertheimer, the founder of ITA software and now a Google VP said, “Because the airlines don’t want the online travel agents included.”
Whoa! Google is now kowtowing to the airlines? Who is Google serving? The airlines? The public? Themselves?
Where is Google’s famous “Do no evil” mantra. Why is Google openly restricting their searches to only airline sites? Why are they excluding, from the public, airfares that airlines have negotiated with various travel agents?
This open announcement of restricting search makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Google can no longer be a trusted search engine. We now know that they only allow searches of sites with whom they have agreements; at least in terms of their new FlightSearch platform.
It is a slippery slope. Just to put an alarmist point of view on this action — this is the action of an online thug or a dictator. Years ago in the Soviet Union, newspapers only included news that was approved by the government. This was because the people, according to the dictators only needed to know what they were told. Google evidently feels that, in its interest, searchers only need to see results that Google feels are important.
If Google had not built their business on their search engine prowess, and had always been a retailer of sorts, this would not be a problem. But, Google is a search engine in the eyes of the public. It has become one of the first places Web users go to search for information.
In most cases, Google serves up Webwide results with no censorship. However in Flight Search, Google has announced, what I believe, is unprecedented censorship into their search algorithms. Even in their questionable hotel search results that list a map with hotels associated with Google, no hotels or hotel sales outlets are openly excluded.
Perhaps, as others have noted, it is time to take another look at Google and its Internet power. Perhaps Google should be broken up into a search engine component that can be trusted and an openly commercial retail operation that sells everything from books to pencils and airline flights to cruises only from their select merchants. That would at least be honest.
As long as Google poses as a “do-no-evil” giant and masquerades as a search engine serving the public as a navigation aid through the online world, while at the same time picking and choosing what sites we find based on their own commercial interest, it is a fraud that is surreptitiously “doing evil.”
When Google only presents airline results and excludes deals that the airlines themselves have negotiated with travel agents and other ticket sellers, they are doing the public no favors. In fact they are openly now restricting search on their own vaunted search engine.
It is not right. In fact, hearing that Google is openly excluding search results in the interests of the airlines rather than presenting results in the interest of consumers who believe they are searching the Web with an unbiased search engine, borders on disingenuous.
Google should reconsider before they face a possible breakup and withering governmental scrutiny.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 11 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.