Google and the U.S. Department of Justice may soon reach an agreement that would allow the Internet's biggest search engine to buy ITA Software, the travel data company, for $700 million.
The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the deal, says the Justice Department is asking that it be allowed to monitor part of the company's operations to make sure it doesn't abuse its dominant position in travel searches.
Google recently agreed to independent privacy audits for 20 years in the wake of a Federal Trade Commission complaint that it had violated users' privacy through its social network, Buzz.
The Google-ITA deal has come under fire from outside groups. In October, an organization called Fairsearch.org was formed by several companies that provide travel searches, which has lobbied against approval of the merger. The initial companies that fought it were Expedia Inc., Farelogix Inc., KAYAK and Sabre Holdings, and they were joined by Microsoft.
ITA provides the technology behind sites such as kayak.com and Orbitz. Fairsearch is concerned that Google will privilege its own travel sites over others in search results. Another issue is the licensing of the data ITA provides to sites such as kayak.com -- Google has said it will honor the current agreements but has yet to say whether it will sign a new one with any of the current licensees. One provision of the settlement could be a mandatory licensing system to stop Google from shutting out any competitors from buying ITA's data.
Access to ITA would also give Google access to source code, according to some of the travel companies. That by itself raises concerns about anticompetitive behavior, and Google will likely have to promise that it will maintain some kind of firewall so it can't do that.