Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, along with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and five other impacted states, recently announced settlements with Google, LLC and iHeartMedia, Inc. to resolve an investigation into an alleged deceptive ad campaign involving allegedly false endorsements of the Google Pixel 4 smartphone. Under the terms of the settlements, both Google and iHeartMedia will pay a total of $9.4 million to the impacted states, including over $1.17 million to the State of Georgia.
“Not only are false advertising claims unlawful, but they also prevent consumers from making informed decisions about the products and services they purchase,” said Carr. “Any business that purposefully employs deceptive practices to mislead Georgians will be held accountable for their actions.”
According to the Complaint, filed with the consent judgments that remain subject to court approval, it is alleged that in 2019, Google contracted for iHeartMedia to record advertisements endorsing Google’s Pixel 4 smartphone for airing in particular media markets across the country, including Atlanta, Georgia. These ads, which ran on certain iHeartMedia radio stations and internet streaming services, are alleged to have included false claims regarding the supposed personal experiences of purported users. However, these purported users had never actually owned or operated a Pixel 4 smartphone prior to making their endorsements.
Google allegedly hired iHeartMedia to have those in the ads 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 those making their endorsements in advance of initially recording and airing the ads in 10 media markets – Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Denver/Boulder, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, and San Francisco/Bay Area. Specifically, these false ads aired 1,169 times in Georgia, including four ads aired on iHeartMedia radio stations in the Atlanta media market.
The Complaint alleges that the ad campaign violated the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act, as it deceived consumers about the endorser’s actual experience using the product.
Under the terms of the settlements, both Google and iHeartMedia will pay a total of $9.4 million to the impacted states, 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 AG Carr and Massachusetts AG Maura Healey, who together led the resolutions, are the attorneys general of the other impacted states of Arizona, California, Illinois and New York. Texas also joined the group in its settlement with iHeartMedia.