FTC fines Google and iHeartMedia for paid endorsements of Pixel 4 without endorsers using it

The Google Pixel 4 was announced back in 2019 and similar to any product reveal, it was accompanied by much fanfare and advertising. However, it appears that Google may have gone one step too far when promoting the phone, which has resulted in it being handed a multi-million dollar fine by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Two orange Google Pixel 4 in hand with the blurred background of some tech conference

Basically, Google and iHeartMedia paid $2.6 million to iHeartRadio and another $2 million to 11 smaller radio networks to have radio hosts endorse the Pixel 4. This was deemed as deceptive because the endorsers hadn't even used the phone themselves when recording the ad spot. The script for the ad went something like:

The only thing I love more than taking the perfect photo? Taking the perfect photo at night.

With Google Pixel 4 both are a cinch.

It’s my favorite phone camera out there, especially in low light, thanks to Night Sight Mode.

I’ve been taking studio-like photos of everything... my son’s football game... a meteor shower... a rare spotted owl that landed in my backyard. Pics or it didn’t happen, am I right?

Pixel 4 is more than just great pics. 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.

I can read up on the latest health fads, ask for directions to the nearest goat yoga class (yes, that’s a thing), and text the location to mom hands-free.

According to the FTC, iHeartMedia did request Pixel 4 units ahead of the ad spot recording, but did not receive them. It requested them again in January 2020 but was only provided five units. As a result, the majority of radio hosts did not receive the handset. On the other hand, 29,000 deceptive ads for the Pixel 4 aired between 2019 and 2020.

The settlement between the FTC, Google, and iHeartMedia includes the latter two companies paying a $9.4 million fine to the seven U.S. states that they are settling with. They are also restricted from misrepresenting consumer experiences moving forward, and will have to abide by lots of strict compliance requirements too.

In a statement, a Google spokesperson stated that:

We are pleased to resolve this issue. We take compliance with advertising laws seriously and have processes in place designed to help ensure we follow relevant regulations and industry standards.

You can also read our not-paid-for review of the Google Pixel 4 here.

Source: FTC via The Verge

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