State takes Google to court for misleading consumers, includes testimony about iHeart warnings

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed a lawsuit against Google, claiming the Big Tech behemoth used “misleading endorsements” when it ran an ad that included high personal praise from several DJs for a product that wasn’t yet available.

Paxton is seeking a temporary and permanent injunction against Google, as well as civil monetary penalties for past misconduct regarding potentially misleading ads for the Pixel 4 smartphone.

“Google perpetrated a fraud on Texas consumers by producing, scripting, and paying for advertisements that were blatantly false,” AG Paxton told FOX Business in an exclusive interview. “Yet again, Texas consumers have been victimized by this Big Tech giant through this latest act in a long line of illegal behavior. Google should be held accountable, and I will ensure this conglomerate knows they are not above the law in the State of Texas.”

Despite the fact that the phone had not yet been released and no one had used it, Google allegedly distributed ads in October 2019 through iHeartMedia in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston markets that included personal testimonials from radio DJs. DFW and Houston are both top 10 U.S. media markets.

Google responded to the complaint, stating that the company “will review the complaint, but the AG’s allegations appear to misrepresent what occurred here.”

“We take compliance with advertising laws seriously and have policies in place designed to help ensure we follow relevant regulations and industry standards,” José Castañeda, a Google spokesperson, told FOX Business.

The Pixel 4 was announced on Oct. 15, 2010, and hit the U.S. markets on Oct. 24 that year. According to the lawsuit, the DJs recorded the ads on Oct. 21, making “personal” testimonials impossible.

In one portion of the script, the Pixel 4 is described as having one DJ’s “favorite phone camera, while highlighting the phone’s Night Sight Mode. The DJ claims to have taken “studio-like photos of everything.”

“It’s also great at helping me get stuff done, thanks to the new voice-activated Google Assistant that can handle multiple tasks at once,” the DJ claimed, despite never having used the phone at the time the ads ran.

iHeartMedia, headquartered in San Antonio, voiced concerns that the ads would appear misleading to consumers, but Google allegedly refused to heed the warning, insisting on the use of “first-hand testimonials.”

A Google employee reportedly told iHeartMedia that providing phones for the DJs to actually test was “not feasible” at the time because the product was “not on shelves yet.”

iHeartMedia is the largest operator of radio stations in the nation, with more than 850 AM and FM radio stations across the country. Of them, 72 call Texas home.

This lawsuit comes on the heels of another filed in Utah, accusing Google and Facebook of conspiring in a secret deal to give Facebook an advantage in online advertising auctions.

“This is not the first time I have had to address bad behavior by Big Tech companies,” stated Paxton in a press release. “They are not above the law, and I will make sure they are held accountable for their misleading business practices. Google will not continue manipulating Texas Consumers.”

 

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