There has been a ‘change in sentiment’ on regulating Google, travel firm CEO says


Trivago CFO Axel Hefer

Source: Trivago

LONDON — The chief executive of European travel booking firm Trivago believes attitudes toward the world’s biggest technology companies have changed.

Axel Hefer, who has been at the helm of Trivago for almost five years, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” Wednesday that there has been a “change in sentiment” in Europe and across the world when it comes to tackling the power that firms like Google have.

“There is an increasing understanding that you need to set some rules that are specific to the digital world, as you’ve done in the offline world a long time ago,” said Hefer. “Over the next couple of years, we do expect some more rules and regulation and that should lead to more innovation-based competition, rather than increasing economies of scale that just dominate the different verticals.”

Hefer added that “mega platforms control our daily life” and it’s “almost impossible” not to use their services.

“The issue that we are facing is that certain monopolies exist on certain parts of the value chain that are leveraged into other products and other businesses,” said Hefer. “That is obviously harming competition and harming innovation.”

Google has a frosty relationship with many of the world’s biggest online travel companies who rely on the company’s search engine for business.

Trivago and other travel companies are concerned that Google is trying to become a more dominant player in travel. Arguably, it all started in 2010, when Google bought ITA Software, the leading platform for flight data.

“Google has better travel data than any other company on the planet,” Johannes Reck, the CEO of travel agency GetYourGuide, told CNBC last year. “We see Google aggressively moving forward trying to get content from other companies in the travel space in order to build their own products.”

In November, a group of 135 tech companies — including Tripadvisor, and Trivago — wrote to the EU’s competition chief Margrethe Vestager calling on her to end Google’s alleged favoring of its own services in web searches.

The companies, some of which have been known to criticize Google in the past, claimed the internet giant uses its “OneBox” tool — which shows information above and is distinct from other search results — to keep users within its own service, preventing them from visiting other more relevant products.

For its part, Google rejected claims that it gives “preference (to) specific companies or commercial rivals over others.”

“People expect Google to give them the most relevant, high-quality search results that they can trust,” a spokesperson for the company said, adding it provides “helpful services which create more choice and competition for Europeans.”

 — Additional reporting by CNBC’s Ryan Browne.

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