Mass Attorney General Reaches Resolutions With Google & iHeartMedia Over Misleading Radio Ads

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In full transparency, the following is a press release from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s oiffice submitted to SOURCE media (stock photo).

BOSTON – Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, along with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and five other states, have announced settlements with Google, LLC and iHeartMedia, Inc. to resolve an investigation into an alleged deceptive ad campaign that ran false endorsements of the Google Pixel 4 smartphone.

According to a complaint, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, with the proposed consent judgments that remain subject to court approval, it is alleged that in 2019, Google contracted for iHeartMedia radio personalities to record advertisements endorsing Google’s Pixel 4 smartphone for airing in various media markets across the country, including Boston.

In these ads, which ran on certain iHeart radio stations and Internet streaming services, the radio personalities falsely claim they used the smartphones and found that they performed favorably. However, the radio personalities never owned or operated a Pixel 4 smartphone prior to making their endorsements.

“Consumers expect radio advertisements to be truthful and transparent about products, not misleading with fake endorsements,” said AG Healey. “Today’s settlement holds Google and iHeart accountable for this deceptive ad campaign and ensures compliance with state and federal law moving forward.”

“Google and iHeartMedia paid influencers to promote products they never used, showing a blatant disrespect for truth-in-advertising rules,” said Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Samuel Levine. “The FTC will not stop working with our partners in the states to crack down on deceptive ads and ensure firms that break the rules pay a price.”

Google allegedly hired iHeart to have its radio personalities use scripts that described their supposed personal experiences using the Pixel 4, despite the phone not yet being available for sale. Google also refused to provide the phones to the radio personalities in advance of initially recording and airing the ads in 10 markets – Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Denver/Boulder, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, and San Francisco/Bay Area. 

According to the AG’s Office, these false ads aired nearly 1,900 times in Massachusetts between October and December 2019, including 1,300 ads on iHeartMedia radio stations in the Boston media market.

AG Healey’s office alleges that the ad campaign violated the Consumer Protection Act, and related regulations, as they deceived consumers about the endorser’s actual experience using the product.

Under the terms of the settlements, both Google and iHeart will pay a total of $9.4 million to the states, including over $1 million for Massachusetts, comply with the FTC’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, and not make misrepresentations about an endorser’s experience. The settlements also require the companies to provide related compliance reports to the states – Google will be required to report for three years, and iHeartMedia will be required to report for 10 years.

Joining Massachusetts in today’s resolutions are the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, and New York. Texas also joined the group in the settlement with iHeartMedia.

This case was handled for Massachusetts by Mychii Snape, Deputy Division Chief of the AG’s Consumer Protection Division.

editor

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