FTC Sues Google and Radio Station Magnate iHeartMedia for Deceptive Pixel 4 Smartphone Ads

On Monday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced charges against both Google and AM and FM radio giant iHeartRadio for failing to abide by its truth-in-advertising rules. The administrative complaint accompanies lawsuits by state attorneys general against the defendants for airing tens of thousands of deceptive endorsements by radio personalities promoting Google’s Pixel 4 smartphone.

According to the consumer watchdog agency, iHeartMedia is the largest owner of radio stations in the country, owning more than 850. It also streams its content over the internet, the FTC noted.

In 2019 and 2020, Google allegedly paid iHeartMedia more than $2.6 million to record and broadcast advertisements featuring radio personalities endorsing the Pixel 4. iHeartMedia and eleven other radio networks in ten major markets were paid for on-air endorsements with Google-provided scripts, the FTC said.

Some endorsements stated, “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,” 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.” Yet, the FTC claimed the endorsements were bogus because the radio personalities “were not provided with Pixel 4s before recording and airing the majority of the ads and therefore did not own or regularly use the phones.”

The FTC’s proposed orders, similar to those reached by the state attorneys general, require Google and iHeartMedia to refrain from further misrepresentations. Too, the companies must maintain compliance records while the state judgments also require them to pay $9.4 million in penalties.