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Feds Ready To Approve Google-ITA Deal — With Ongoing Government Oversight

After months of lobbying and speculation the US appears ready to approve Google’s $700 million acquisition of travel software company ITA, with some interesting “safeguards” or provisions. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Justice Department approval of the deal would come with ongoing monitoring of the deal by regulators:

Google Inc. and the Justice Department are close to an agreement that would clear the search giant’s $700 million acquisition of flight-data company ITA Software Inc. in return for granting federal regulators authority to monitor a part of its operations, according to people familiar with the matter. The proposed agreement isn’t final, and could fall apart.

Essentially Google would be on the receiving end of ongoing antitrust monitoring. Presumably this would be not too far removed from the annual privacy audits that Google has agreed to at the hands of the FTC.

The WSJ article is careful to repeat that “the deal could still fall through.” However this provides a settlement framework potentially for the European antitrust action as well (some sort of periodic monitoring or annual audit). It might even preempt antitrust investigations that are gearing up in the US at the state and federal level.

It all remains to be seen of course. But if the report is accurate it would be a striking development and turning point in Google’s increasingly testy and contentious relationship with government regulators.

Postscript: EU antitrust head Joaquin Almunia told Bloomberg that he expects numerous antitrust claims still to come against Google. According to Bloomberg:

Google Inc. (GOOG) will trigger more complaints to European Union antitrust regulators given its “extremely large” market share for Web search and advertising, the EU’s competition commissioner said.

Joaquin Almunia, the region’s antitrust chief, said a complaint about Google filed by Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) last week will “not be the last one” and regulators had received more than 500 responses to questionnaires sent to Web companies, publishers, and advertisers earlier this year.

(Photo credit: Boeing. Used with permission)

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