The Google-ITA Software deal could be huge for the travel industry -- but might the pending acquisition have even larger consequences than initially envisioned for Google?
Consider that while the U.S. Dept. of Justice is engaged in what will no doubt be a several-months-long probe of the antitrust implications of the deal, the Texas attorney general is conducting a more far-reaching investigation of Google's business practices as they relate to search neutrality and the display of both sponsored and organic results.
Google acknowledged the Texas antitrust review is under way and confirmed it involves allegations brought by companies, including Foundem, a U.K. comparison shopping site; search vendor TradeComet; and myTriggers, another comparison shopping site.
In its blog post, Google pointed to a couple of these companies' Microsoft ties, said it cooperating with the Texas attorney general and expressed confidence "that Google operates in the best interests of our users."
And, guess what?
It should come as no surprise that the Texas investigation of Google, which came to light two months after the ITA Software deal was announced, has not gone unnoticed by the DOJ and Congress.
But, separate from the DOJ probe of Google-ITA, the DOJ is known to be gauging Google's business practices from a competition lens and is gathering information from companies in several verticals -- and not just travel.
Call it what you will -- an investigation, an inquiry or just an informal look-see -- but the DOJ is studying the issues.
All of this, of course, goes way beyond the questions raised by the Google-ITA Software deal in travel search.
Congress also has become engaged.
The House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Courts and Competition Policy heard testimony about the role of Google, Apple and other companies "in the evolving digital marketplace" and heard testimony about the pros and cons about the Google-ITA Software deal.
So, there's a school of thought that if the DOJ eventually announces a broad investigation into Google's competitive role in the online marketplace, it's possible the DOJ may come to view Google's proposed $750 million acquisition of ITA Software as a tipping point.
As in, this time Google you've gone too far, given everything else that's going on.
Would Google conceivably agree to make ITA Software a sacrificial lamb, and cancel the deal, in the interest of appeasing the DOJ and as part of a broader framework agreement about Google's search practices?
Of course, things would have to heat up a lot for this sort of scenario to go down.
Google has been on an acquisition tear in recent years, but there is precedent for Google withdrawing from a large deal under pressure.
Am Law Daily reported in December 2008 that Google and Yahoo cancelled their much-ballyhooed search deal hours before the DOJ was to have gone to court to block it on antitrust grounds.
No one is saying that DOJ is poised at this moment to block Google's ITA Software deal, and Google plus ITA Software is a far different equation than two major general-purpose search engines, Google and Yahoo, combining forces.
Still, the Google-ITA Software deal, in the throes of DOJ's second request for information, is not yet a done deal.
There undoubtedly will be other developments before champagne bottles get popped.