Expedia Group CEO Peter Kern says he hopes the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust complaint against Google ultimately changes the search giant’s behavior, and creates a fair marketplace for the online travel company and others that both compete with Google and rely on its dominant search engine for traffic and customers.
“I’m very pleased to see the government finally taking some action,” Kern said at the GeekWire Summit on Tuesday, marking the company’s first public statement on the case since it was filed Tuesday morning. “Hopefully, it will create a fair marketplace for us, which is all we want. We have no axe to grind against Google, except that we don’t think the marketplace is equitable.”
Expedia Group, based in Seattle, includes major travel brands such as vrbo, Orbitz, Hotwire, Trivago, Hotels.com, and Egencia in addition to the flagship Expedia.com. Kern, a longtime Expedia Group board member, has been CEO since April, leading the company through the travel downturn, caused by the pandemic, and an internal restructuring of its technology and operations.
Company leaders including Kern and Chairman Barry Diller have been outspoken about the challenges created by Google’s dual role as search platform and competitor. Expedia pointed out in a regulatory filing earlier this year that Google has been building out its online travel offerings while “further prioritizing its own products in search results.”
The company has traditionally spent heavily on Google search ads to boost traffic to Expedia Group brands.
In a post responding to the suit, Google called the government’s case “deeply flawed” and “dubious.”
“We understand that with our success comes scrutiny, but we stand by our position,” said Kent Walker, Google senior vice president of global affairs, in the post. “American antitrust law is designed to promote innovation and help consumers, not tilt the playing field in favor of particular competitors or make it harder for people to get the services they want.”
A recent House Judiciary Committee antitrust report quoted an anonymous market participant saying that Google “deceptively siphons internet traffic away from its vertical competitors in online travel and forces them to pay more for [search engine monetization] and Ads in order to get meaningful placement on Google’s [search engine results page].” It said Google also “requires its vertical competitors to provide their inventory feed to populate the ads, allowing Google to appropriate vertical service providers’ valuable inventory data.”
“I think there’s definitely truth in all of those statements,” Kern said when asked about that section of the House antitrust report during his GeekWire Summit appearance. “Google would say they’re doing what the consumer wants. That’s what they always tell us. It makes a better auction, or it makes for better information.”
“We take a different view,” Kern said. “They’re inevitably, through their practices, making it harder for the people who have paid to give them the right to keep making it harder for us,” he said. “It’s a prisoner’s dilemma, always, of how much you participate or don’t, and what that does to your own business as you try to change the dynamics of heir auctions and other things.”
He added, “Our goal is only a fair fight. We have no axe to grind against anyone we’re in business with, or any of our competitors. We just want a fair fight.”
[The full interview with Kern, and other GeekWire Summit sessions, are available on-demand exclusively to attendees of the virtual event. Learn more and register here.]