U.S. Justice Dept probing Google/ITA deal: sources

WASHINGTON Wed Sep 8, 2010 7:52am EDT

The logo of Google is pictured in front of its former headquarters in Beijing July 12, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Lee

The logo of Google is pictured in front of its former headquarters in Beijing July 12, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Lee

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department is looking into allegations that Google Inc's purchase of airline ticketing firm ITA Software Inc will cost rivals access to data they need to compete with the search giant as it moves into the travel market, sources familiar with the probe said.

Google announced in July that it was buying ITA Software, one of the Web's key providers of airline travel software, for $700 million.

The concern is that Google could create a travel website, with ITA at its heart, and then use its dominance of search to steer potential travelers to its site rather than Expedia Inc, Orbitz Worldwide Inc or other online travel agencies.

"A number of companies including Microsoft have had informal discussions" with the Justice Department, said a source familiar with the department's investigation.

The Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission divide the work of antitrust enforcement, with Justice shouldering the FTC aside to take charge of the Google-ITA probe. "Both the FTC and DOJ wanted the deal. There was pushing and shoving to get it," said a Washington antitrust source.

Expedia President and CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in an interview published September 1 that the company had been in touch with the Justice Department.

"We shared our views with them. But it is not up to us to push the DOJ one way or the other. They will make up their own minds," Khosrowshahi told TNOOZ.

Khosrowshahi noted that both Google and ITA were powerful in their areas.

"Obviously, Google is the dominant search provider in the U.S., and in Europe that extends to travel, which is our category. And, then you got ITA which is arguably the dominant flight search technology that is selling to third parties. To the extent those two come together, there are some potential concerns about what that combined company can do. And the DOJ asked us various questions. We answered the questions," he said.

The Justice Department declined comment and Google did not respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Sakthi Prasad and Diane Bartz; editing by John Wallace)