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from the L.A. Times

Justice Department OKs Google's $700-million ITA Software purchase

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The Department of Justice approved Google's proposed $700-million purchase of travel data company ITA Software Inc., with some strings attached.

In order for Google to acquire ITA, which builds online flight and ticket information software for airline companies, the tech giant must adhere to certain requirements intended to ensure competition for travel websites, according to a Friday statement from the Justice Department.

"The proposed settlement will protect competition for airfare comparison and booking websites and ensure those websites using ITA’s software will be able to power their websites to compete against any airfare website Google may introduce," the statement said.

The original purchase proposal, the department said, would have "substantially" cut down on competition among other websites that compare airfares (such as Expedia and Kayak), "resulting in reduced choice and less innovation for consumers," the statement said.

The fear is that ITA's travel software, which searches for airfares, schedules and availability, would crowd out other travel websites when combined with Google's search engine prowess.

But Google would be required to license ITA's software to websites on "commercially reasonable terms" and implement firewalls to prevent inappropriate use of personal infromation gathered from customers, with the proposed settlement detailing "when and for what purpose that data may be used by Google," the Justice Department said.

Google must also set up a formal reporting system for anyone who believes it is acting unfairly.

The proposed settlement could resolve a civil antitrust lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in D.C. by the antitrust division of the Justice Department  to block the proposed purchase of ITA , the statement said.

Google recently agreed to settle a separate issue with the Federal Trade Commission, the other U.S. agency that handles antitrust matters, to implement an upgraded privacy policy and submit to 20 years of independent audits relating to charges that the company violated promises to consumers when it launched its social network, Buzz, last year.

The FTC settlement had some of the most stringent terms handed down by federal regulators in a privacy case, and the agreement also marked the first time the agency forced a company to enact such a far-reaching privacy policy to safeguard user data.

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--Shan Li

Photo: Sreen image of the Google logo in Washington, D.C. Credit: Karen Bleier/ AFP/Getty Images.

 
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