Travel comparison website Skyscanner has accused its rival Google of denying Brits the best holiday deals by favoring its own flights and hotels in searches.
The website has urged ministers not to weaken new laws to prevent online giants such as Google from abusing their market dominance.
The company’s general counsel, Martin Nolan, said Google was “quietly directing” users to its own products and “robbing” customers of more options and better prices. He said: “The government must not allow the gatekeepers to pull up the drawbridge behind them – if they do, British technology and consumers will be worse off.”
The Digital Markets Act currently being debated in Parliament is intended to promote competition and rein in a small number of powerful technology companies. Under the law, a regulator will have the power to force companies to make significant changes to their business models. It can also impose hefty fines.
But there are widespread fears that ministers are on the verge of giving in to strong lobbying from the tech giants, which would make it easier for them to challenge a decision.
Mr Nolan warned that this would be a “serious mistake” as it would encourage companies to delay any decision by dragging it out through lengthy and expensive legal proceedings – thereby making the proposed regime “significantly less effective”. Since its launch in 2003, Skyscanner has grown into one of the largest travel comparison sites in the world, searching 80 billion prices every day.
The Digital Markets Bill, currently being debated in Parliament, aims to boost competition and rein in a small number of powerful tech companies (stock image)
Google introduced its own flight comparison feature within its search engine in 2011 and, due to its success, introduced the same for hotels in 2019
However, Mr Nolan said the company “probably wouldn’t exist” if it had been founded a decade later because a small number of “gatekeepers” would set the rules for their own benefit.
One such company is Google, he said, which introduced its own flight comparison option in its search engine in 2011 and, following its success, did the same for hotels in 2019.
While the competition was initially “welcome”, Mr Nolan said Google had increasingly used its control over online searches to prioritize its own services over rivals.
He said it was as if every supermarket in a city was owned by a single company that put its own branded products in the best spots and forced customers to shop at the back of the store for the “best, most popular, or your favorite products.” seek.
He added: “As time goes on and time is limited, you are less and less likely to go to the back of the store, meaning you are unknowingly missing out on more choice and higher quality products.”
“When a single company has disproportionate power to influence consumer choices, it not only harms competitors; It deprives customers of the full range of options they deserve, better prices and the innovative solutions that come from healthy competition.”
Martin Nolan, Skyscanner’s chief legal officer, said Google was “quietly directing” users to its own products and “robbing” customers of more options and better prices
Since its launch in 2003, Skyscanner has grown into one of the largest travel comparison sites in the world, searching 80 billion prices every day.
With the Digital Markets Bill due to be tabled in Parliament on November 20, ministers are expected to announce a change early next week. There are widespread fears that Rishi Sunak’s government has given in to pressure from Silicon Valley and will switch the appeals system from a judicial review to a substantive system.
Mr Nolan writes in the Daily Mail today: “This would be a serious mistake – any change to the appeal standard would encourage these firms, with their endless legal resources, to challenge any CMA.” [Competition and Markets Authority] decision would significantly alter the proposed rule and significantly impair its effectiveness.
“Speed is crucial – small changes to ranking algorithms or app store terms and conditions can destroy promising challenger companies within weeks.” The [Digital Markets Watchdog, which will act as regulator under the Bill] For this to succeed, it must be able to make and enforce decisions quickly.”
A Google spokesperson said: “People expect Google to provide them with the most relevant and high-quality search results for their search query, and our testing shows that travelers find it helpful to include information such as flight prices alongside website links directly in the search results to see results.” .
“When Google Flights appears on the search results page, it is algorithmically ranked among other results based on user relevance.
“Ultimately, providing more relevant results in search leads to more choice and competition, generating billions of free visits to sites across the internet every day.”