You’re not the only one wondering if this social media star really used a hot new phone. The Federal Trade Commission and seven states have judged Google and iHeartMedia for running allegedly “deceptive” Pixel 4 ads. Promotions that aired between 2019 and 2020 featured influencers touting the features of phones they allegedly didn’t own — Google didn’t even was delivering Pixels before most of the ads were recorded, officials said.
iHeartMedia and 11 other radio networks ran Pixel 4 ads in ten major markets. They have been broadcast about 29,000 times. It’s unclear how many people listened to the ads.
The FTC aims to prohibit Google and iHeartMedia from making future misleading claims about ownership. It also requires both companies to demonstrate compliance through reports. States including Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Texas also issued judgments requiring the firms to pay $9.4 million in penalties.
Google spokesman Jose Castaneda told Engadget in a statement that the company was “pleased” to address the situation and took advertising laws “seriously.” He added that Google doesn’t see this as a lawsuit (it’s technically a proposed FTC order and state rulings) and that the tech giant is only settling with six of the seven states.
Misleading phone ads are far from new. Huawei and Samsung have been caught passing off stock DSLR photos as representative of their phones’ cameras. There’s also a history of celebrities promoting phones it’s not clear they’re using. Gal Gadot should have protect herself against claims that she introduced Huawei phones while tweeting from an iPhone, for example (that was her PR).
However, here the accusations are more serious. The FTC and the states involved allege that Google decided to use fake testimonials. According to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Consumer Protection Director Samuel Levine, this is a “blatant disregard” for truth in advertising rules. While the penalty is small compared to the antitrust sanctions Google has faced so far, it could damage the credibility of the company’s campaigns for newer Pixels and other hardware.
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