The FTC, or Federal trade commission, and several states in the United States, announced that Google and iHeartMedia had settled a case where they were accused of airing misleading and fraudulent ads of the Pixel 4 over the radio.
According to California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the settlements stem from complaints alleging that Google partnered with iHeartMedia paid to have radio personalities endorse and talk about their personal experiences using the Pixel 4 between 2019 and 2020. At the time, the phone wasn’t available, and many radio DJs had not even used it, Bonta said.
The complaint alleges that the fraudulent ads were run more than 23,000 times across various radio stations and markets.
To settle the lawsuit, Google will be paying about $9 million, whereas iHeartMedia, the largest owner of radio stations in the United States, will pay over $400,000. A few smaller radio stations which ran the ads are also likely to pay.
The complaint alleges that Google provided a script to iHeartMedia, which was then sent to radio hosts, radio personalities, and other influencers on board the media organization. The writings spoke positively of the photography and video experience of the device. They included the first-person language of using the phone’s camera to take photos at night for events like football games and meteor showers and how well it performed in low light. The script also praised how well the integrated voice assistant and the voice activation system worked on the Pixel 4.
While brands sending scripts for “paid reviews” is a grey area and not an uncommon practice, the radio celebrities, in this instance, did not experience the device in any meaningful way to come to the conclusions highlighted in the ads. Most of them hadn’t even seen the smartphone in question.
Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas, and the Federal Trade Commission were part of the settlements.
Of the settlement money, California will receive nearly $3 million. A spokeswoman for Bonta said that the funds would be split between the state and Alameda County, where the case was filed, and be used to enforce consumer protection laws.
The settlement bars Google from making misrepresentations in endorsements of its products for 20 years. The company will also be required to report to California about its compliance with the settlement regularly.