Google, iHeartMedia settle charges of deceptive Pixel 4 ads with FTC, U.S. states

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FILE PHOTO: The logo of Google is pictured during the Viva Tech start-up and technology summit in Paris

By Kanishka Singh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and seven U.S. states reached a settlement with Alphabet Inc’s Google and iHeartMedia Inc over allegations of deceptive ads promoting Google’s Pixel 4 smartphone, the FTC said.

The FTC said in a statement on Monday that the companies aired nearly 29,000 deceptive endorsements by radio personalities promoting their use of and experience with Google’s Pixel 4 phone in 2019 and 2020.

The allegations were settled by the companies, who agreed to pay $9.4 million in penalties, the FTC said.

“Google and iHeartMedia paid influencers to promote products they never used, showing a blatant disrespect for truth-in-advertising rules,” FTC official Samuel Levine said.

In 2019, Google hired iHeartMedia and 11 other radio networks in 10 major markets to have on-air personalities record and broadcast endorsements of the Pixel 4 phone, according to the FTC.

Google said it was pleased to resolve this case.

“We take compliance with advertising laws seriously and have processes in place designed to help ensure we follow relevant regulations and industry standards,” a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

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While Monday’s penalty was small, Google and big tech firms have faced scrutiny from regulators recently. Google is also fighting claims in court over its search and advertising practices.

Earlier this month, the company agreed to pay nearly $400 million to settle allegations by 40 U.S. states that the search and advertising company illegally tracked users’ locations. The U.S. Justice Department sued Google in 2020, accusing it of antitrust violations in its search business, claims that Google denied.

The seven states to join the FTC were New York, Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts and Texas.

The ads ran in English and Spanish and violated consumer protection laws, the FTC and the seven states alleged.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in WashingtonAdditional reporting by David Shepardson in WashingtonEditing by Cynthia Osterman and Matthew Lewis)