An editorial in The Washington Post calling on the U.S. Justice Department to review competitive concerns in the pending Google-ITA Software deal symbolizes just how far the acquisition's opponents have taken their campaign.
The editorial doesn't take a position on Google's proposed acquisition of ITA Software, but is notable in that it urges DOJ to look beyond the nuts and bolts of the deal at hand and consider the broader implications of Google's role in e-commerce.
The following are a couple of key paragraphs in the editorial [the italics are mine]:
"The Justice Department must determine whether Google's purchase of ITA could substantially reduce competition. These assessments are fact-intensive and often made based on the merger's impact on a narrowly defined market. Justice should not confine its review but should also consider the implications of allowing an already formidable Internet power to continue to expand its reach and consolidate its grip over a range of Internet commerce.
"This does not necessarily mean that the deal should be quashed. Google gained prominence - and dominance - by providing innovative services to consumers and businesses alike. Its purchase of ITA may very well bring the same benefits to online travel search. But regulators must review the deal closely to ensure that Google's vast power and reach do not unfairly hinder others' ability to compete or deprive consumers of innovations not yet imagined."
On July 1, when the $700 million deal was announced, it's safe to assume that few people outside certain segments of the travel industry had ever heard of ITA Software, which powers flight shopping and pricing for many online travel agencies, airline websites and travel metasearch companies.
But FairSearch.org, despite its fairly narrow base of admittedly powerful members, including Expedia and Microsoft, has managed to get the attention of inside-the-beltway policy-makers and thought-leaders as it lobbies to get DOJ to block the deal.
Of course, FairSearch.org can't take all the credit -- or darts -- for the serious and apparently protracted look at the implications of the deal.
Part of the pushback undoubtedly comes because of the timing of the deal and resistance to Google's market power.
As The Washington Post editorial articulates, some observers believe the issue goes beyond "the impact on a narrowly defined market," and speaks to Google's already dominant role in search and its evolving position in various vertical markets, including travel.
When the deal was announced July 1, it was fairly unthinkable that DOJ might step in to block the acquisition.
The odds are still heavily against that kind of action, with certain conditions placed on the deal a much more likely outcome.
But, suddenly, with The Washington Post editorial as the latest signal, the unthinkable has become a little less unthinkable.