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Is Google really preventing you from getting the best travel deals?

Google is a media giant. Using the power of its search features, Google has the ability to control everything you see on certain search inputs. This is not the first time Google has come under fire for favoring search results from which they have strong business relationships with. In 2011, the DOJ imposed special conditions on a Google flight search acquisition.

Is Google really using its influence to provide preferential advertising treatment to its partners? Why wouldn’t they? Aren’t they a free market business? Or will this result in another antitrust legal claim from the DOJ?

Take a look at the newest charges against Google by The Wall Street Journal.

WSJ claims Google wrongdoing

The Wall Street Journal is criticizing Google for limiting travel competition by stifling the ability for online travel agencies to have visible ads on travel searches. The claim is that Google is using their dominance of the search market to benefit a few major hotel chains of which they have close working relationships with.

Google is disputing this claim. In a statement to “Business Insider,” a Google spokesperson said, “The Wall Street Journal mischaracterized how some of these offerings work…The online travel industry is highly competitive and in fact, travel companies are some of the most avid users of Google’s advertising offerings.”

Google sells keyword advertising space to the highest bidder. But often times, in the case of travel, pressure from large hotel chains forbid online travel agencies they work with from utilizing Google ads. In this way, the hotel chain itself can promote its own deals and cut out the middleman.

In another statement by the Google spokesperson, it is asserted that “Since protecting users is a top priority for Google, we have detailed policies against deceptive or misleading use of trademarks in ad text and take swift action when we see this type of abuse on our platform.”

The claim is that this practice tends to give hotel chains and hospitality companies like Airbnb an unfair advantage when it comes to advertising on the Google platform.

I have not been able to recreate this issue on Google, however. A quick search for “travel deals nyc” provided me with four online travel agency ad results right at the top. I don’t see the favoritism here.

Promoted results will likely not be the very best deals available for your travel plans, they are just the ones that paid Google the most. I hope you are not surprised.

If you really want to find the best deals for travel, spend more time than just looking at the top four sponsored results on Google. Those are advertisements and everyone knows it. Google even says “ad” right next to the result.

The detailed policies may appear to some as Google harming competition between travel agencies, or others as Google protecting consumers from deceptive marketing. What do you guys think? Is Google protecting customers or harming competition?

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