Google and iHeartMedia, a radio and podcasting company, on Monday agreed to pay $9.4 million to settle charges from the Federal Trade Commission and seven states that they were behind deceptive Pixel 4 ads.
The charges say that nearly 29,000 “deceptive endorsements” by radio personalities improperly promoted their experience with the Pixel 4 throughout 2019 and 2020, sometimes saying they used the Pixel 4 when they apparently weren’t provided the phone.
“It is common sense that people put more stock in firsthand experiences. Consumers expect radio advertisements to be truthful and transparent about products, not misleading with fake endorsements,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement.
Google spokesperson José Castañeda said Google is happy to have resolved the issue. “We take compliance with advertising laws seriously and have processes in place designed to help ensure we follow relevant regulations and industry standards,” he said in a statement.
iHeartMedia declined to comment.
Google’s Pixel smartphones compete chiefly against Apple iPhones and against Samsung’s Galaxy line. This year’s Pixel 7 received critical praise, especially for its strong camera performance.
Phone makers have a hard time persuading customers to switch phone brands, especially to relatively unknown products like Google’s Pixel line. Celebrity endorsements are a time-honored way to signal a product’s worthiness, but that can backfire if celebrities actually use a competing product. Actress Gal Gadot tweeted her love of the Huawei Mate 10 Pro phone using the Twitter for iPhone app back in 2018.
Such faux pas can be visible because Twitter identifies the device used to send a tweet. Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, said earlier in November that Twitter will stop including that information.
The FTC said Google gave iHeartMedia and 11 other radio networks in 10 major markets a script with lines reading, “It’s my favorite phone camera out there, especially in low light, thanks to Night Sight mode” and “It’s also great at helping me get stuff done, thanks to the new voice activated Google Assistant that can handle multiple tasks at once.”