Google may have mounted a robust defence of its search practices, but at the same time showed how far it has to go with its travel products.
The European Union put forward a so-called "statement of objections" this week in response to ongoing concerns that Google is abusing its dominant position in the search ecosystem.
Regulators have been investigating Google for years, but this is the first time that the EU has effectively accused the company, via its preliminary findings, of "by systematically favouring its own comparison shopping product in its general search results pages".
The EU's complaints primarily revolves around Google's use of its Shopping placement for products which appear ahead of organic listings in search results.
Competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager says Google must "convince the commission to the contrary".
"The Commission's objective is to apply EU antitrust rules to ensure that companies operating in Europe, wherever they may be based, do not artificially deny European consumers as wide a choice as possible or stifle innovation".
Google could face legal consequences and be forced to "change the way it does business in Europe", Vestager adds.
The EU's cross-industry probe was triggered in part by complaints fromExpedia and TripAdvisor.
The company is not on unfamiliar ground when it comes to competitors and regulators taking aim at what they claim is unfair behaviour in search or the types of companies Google acquires.
Perhaps the most high profile saga involving the travel sector came following Google's decision to spend $700 million on buying ITA Software in the summer of 2010.
The proposed deal ignited countless objections by Expedia, Kayak, Travelocity, TripAdvisor and Microsoft, primarily through the formation of the FairSearch lobbying group (it has since gone on to have a hand in the EU situation).
Google referenced the ITA acquisition during the introduction to a lengthy response to the EU statement of objections this week.
It says the travel companies which lobbied against the deal argued that it would harm the competition if Google had the ability to show flight options.
"Four years later it’s clear their allegations of harm turned out to be untrue."
Google then goes on to highlight how its travel competitors account for a large majority of the online travel sector, both in the US and Europe.
This is about as strong a defence as it can possibly hope to achieve, including producing a chart to outline the competition it faces in Germany.
Google may have illustrated the ability of its competitors to continue to operate effectively, but at the same time it has shown how poorly its own travel products are performing.
Quite a peculiar situation, in some respects. Defend yourself against the regulators, but concede that you're not actually doing particularly well at the same time.
The Comscore traffic shows that Booking.com has around seven million unique visitors a month, whilst Google "Travel" (flight and hotel products) are barely bringing in 500,000 uniques.
Google generally doesn't like commenting on the performance of its travel products, especially as on this occasion it helps it cases in front of EU regulators.
It says instead:
"While Google may be the most used search engine, people can now find and access information in numerous different ways - and allegations of harm, for consumers and competitors, have proved to be wide of the mark."
Still, some might argue that in the face of a five-year investigation, where there was a pretty reasonable chance that regulators would come down hard, Google has not taken any steps to alter the way it displays search results.
On the contrary, perhaps, as during the same period it has pushed all manner of its own services to the top and side of search engine results pages (Maps, Local, Images, etc), especially in relation to travel queries.
The issue is unlikely to go away any time soon (although the EU's notoriously slow processes may remove it from memories for a few years), with Google pledging to "make its case" fully in the coming weeks.
One of the vocal FairSearch members, TripAdvisor, says it welcomes the latest developments into Google's "anti-competitive behavior and its restrictions on search results".
TripAdvisor president and CEO Stephen Kaufer says:
"Google engages in preferencing and manipulates search results so that consumers see content that benefits Google, not the best content for consumers.
"This practice harms consumers and competition, and must be ended."
So, some might suggest, Google is almost back where it was a few years ago.
It is back to fighting a battle on multiple fronts against its competitors in the travel industry (while, somewhat ironically, some of them continue to fill its coffers by both buying keywords in search and using the Flights and Hotels products), but at the same time as trying to grab the attention of consumers for its travel services.