Google has landed in legal trouble over alleged false advertisements of the Pixel 4 series, which launched back in 2019. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed a lawsuit against the company claiming that it forced radio DJs to lie about their “first-hand” experiences with the phones on air. The internet giant engaged in “false, misleading, and deceptive acts and practices,” Paxton alleges. It thus violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices—Consumer Protection Act (DTPA).
According to the lawsuit, Google provided scripted ads to iHeartRadio promoting the Pixel 4 phones. While that is customary in the advertising industry, the company demanded iHeartRadio’s DJs give a first-hand review of the phones without providing them with a sample. It made them say nice things about the Pixel such as, “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” and “it’s my favorite phone camera out there, especially in low light, thanks to Night Sight Mode.”
Since the DJs hadn’t used the Pixel 4, they were lying on air. Perhaps they hadn’t even seen the phones as they weren’t launched at that time. And when they asked Google for review units, the company refused to provide them any. It even refused to make any major changes to the wording for the ads. IHeartRadio warned the internet giant of potential violations of the state laws but it ignored those warnings, forcing the radio service to air the “deceptive” ads.
Those ads were aired 2,405 times across iHeartRadio‘s stations in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, Texas between October 28, 2019, and December 2, 2019. The lawsuit seeks penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation. This totals to more than $24 million. So Google could be facing a hefty fine if found guilty.
Google tried to repeat this deceptive ad practice for the Pixel 4 in 2020
This advertising campaign ended in December 2019. But Google hired iHeartRadio once again in January 2020 for running Pixel 4 ads in five non-Texas markets across the US. To no surprise, the company once again refused to provide sample units. But this time around, iHeartRadio offered to buy the devices as they were available in the market. Google eventually agreed to send five used Pixel 4s.
“This continued pattern of behavior demonstrates the blatant disregard Google possesses for true and accurate advertising in the marketing and sale of its products,” the lawsuit states.
Google, meanwhile, claims that it hasn’t done anything wrong. “We will review the complaint but the AG’s allegations appear to misrepresent what occurred here,” the company said in a statement. “We take compliance with advertising laws seriously and have policies in place designed to help ensure we follow relevant regulations and industry standards”. It will now be interesting to see how the case proceeds.