software federal trade commission sues google over pixel 4 advertising
Software

Federal Trade Commission Sues Google Over Pixel 4 Advertising

Google Sued FTC Pixel 4
Image source: Google

The Federal Trade Commission has announced a punitive order against Google and the iHeartMedia media conglomerate for airing 29,000 deceptive adverts for the Pixel 4 phone. The adverts took the form of ‘deceptive’ endorsements by radio personalities claiming to be happy users of the handset.

In fact, in almost every case, the endorsement was made without even seeing a phone. Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Samuel Levine stated:

Google and iHeartMedia paid influencers to promote products they never used, showing a blatant disrespect for truth-in-advertising rules.

In 2019, Google hired iHeartMedia and eleven other radio networks in ten markets to have influencers record endorsements for the phone based on a Google created script. The personalities had to say things like ‘it’s my favorite phone camera out there, especially in low light… I’ve been taking studio-like photos of everything.’

What made this so deceptive is the fact that most of the influencers had never used the Pixel 4 before. Google promised to supply handsets, but in the end supplied only a handful of phones to a few markets. iHeartMedia runs the largest radio station network in the US, with more than 850 stations which reach over 245 million listeners a month.

Google Violated The FTC Act

The agency’s complaint alleges that the misrepresentation by the two companies violated the FTC Act, and enjoins the companies from misrepresenting that a user had owned or used a product in future. Recordings of the offending adverts can be found on the agency’s website.

“Consumers expect radio advertisements to be truthful and transparent about products, not misleading with fake endorsements,” confirmed Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

Phony testimonials like this are becoming an increasing problem in the US, and the FTC is taking direct steps to tackle the issue. The agency has stepped up actions against fake reviews, and other deceptive endorsements. In March of this year, retailer Fashion Nova was fined $4.2 million and prohibited from suppressing negative customer reviews of its products.

Companies face significant fines if they engage in deceptive marketing

The agency also issued Notice of Penalty Offenses to some 700 companies, warning them that they faced significant fines if they engaged in deceptive marketing, advertising or endorsements. The companies included leading retailers, top consumer product companies and major advertising agencies.

The FTC has also issued a series of guidelines for companies and platforms, including a PDF guide called Featuring Online Customer Reviews.

In response, Google has agreed to settle with the FTC and six out of the seven states involved in the judgements and order. Google is not the only phone maker which has indulged in this sort of deceptive marketing. Both Samsung and Huawei have been caught in the past faking their photo images by using full-blown DSLR camera images instead of ones taken with their phone camera.

It’s a sad reflection of the current age of ‘fake news’ that major tech companies feel that it’s all right to fool the public so blatantly like this. Let’s hope that the practice will start to disappear once the fines start to mount up.