Sounding Off: Google’s playing of the “competition” card will irk many

Sundar Pichai, Alphabet

“Similarly, in areas like travel and real estate, Google faces strong competition for search queries from many businesses that are experts in these areas.”

Quote from Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet Inc., in a written testimony before Congress this week.

Each Friday, PhocusWire dissects and debates an industry trend or new development.

It was the moment that many have been waiting for: Alphabet’s CEO Sundar Pichai (alongside the likes of Jezz Bezos of Amazon, Apple’s Tim Cook and others) appeared before a congressional hearing in the U.S. this week.

In short: lawmakers in the country are examining if the tech giants abuse their power to squash competitors.

Such accusations against Alphabet’s Google search division from the travel industry have increased greatly in recent years (here is Bobby Healy, then-chief technology officer at CarTrawler’s infamous rant in 2019 – it’s about as vocal from an industry exec as you can get on the record).

If Pichai was hoping to start what could eventually be a lengthy antitrust investigation as a result of the hearings with a statement to appease his critics, he may have failed.

Johannes Reck, CEO of GetYourGuide, tweeted:

How the next few months (or years, many fear) play out, if an antitrust investigation specifically into Google is launched, will be the subject of huge speculation and concern in the travel industry.

The concern will come if it appears that Google’s defense rests on the idea that it is still just providing useful links to its users (a mantra now going back two decades) and lawmakers believe it. 

The speculation will center on what happens if there is enough of an argument to force regulators to actually do something about it.

Many will be grateful to those lawmakers if Google’s ambitions in travel are reined in somehow but, some argue, such a removal will simply give those at the top of foodchain under Google (the digital giants of the travel industry) more power of their own.

Tapping Google on the shoulder and telling it to scale back its plans may not be enough to truly democratize travel search for consumers. It’s an argument that gets very little of an airing, primarily because there’s very little that can be done about it.

Travel is a hugely complex ecosystem that, if it is deemed unfair, is perhaps beyond the brains and – more importantly – wherewithal of regulators.

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