Google paid millions to radio hosts to endorse the Pixel 4 even though they hadn’t used it

Google and iHeartMedia are settling with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and seven state attorneys general for allegedly paying radio hosts to read endorsements of the Pixel 4 when the hosts hadn’t actually used the phone. Google allegedly paid more than $2.6 million to iHeartRadio and almost $2 million “in connection with eleven smaller radio networks” for the deceptive ads endorsing the Pixel 4.

For the ads, Google provided scripts for hosts to read on air, which typically began like this, per the complaint:

The only thing I love more than taking the perfect photo? Taking the perfect photo at night.

With Google Pixel 4 both are a cinch.

It’s my favorite phone camera out there, especially in low light, thanks to Night Sight Mode.

I’ve been taking studio-like photos of everything . . . my son’s football game . . . a meteor shower . . . a rare spotted owl that landed in my backyard. Pics or it didn’t happen, am I right?

Pixel 4 is more than just great pics. 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.

I can read up on the latest health fads, ask for directions to the nearest goat yoga class (yes, that’s a thing), and text the location to mom hands-free. . . .

You can hear examples of the recordings on the FTC’s website. They stick pretty close to the script.

But for the “majority” of Pixel 4 ads, hosts were not given Pixel 4s before they recorded the ad spots, according to the FTC’s press release — despite iHeartMedia asking for phones ahead of recording in October 2019, as noted in the complaint. iHeartMedia later asked again for phones after Google requested additional ads in January 2020, and Google eventually sent just five, or one for each market where the ads would be recorded. Nearly 29,000 of the deceptive ads aired in 2019 and 2020, the FTC says.

As part of the settlement, both Google and iHeartMedia will be barred from misrepresenting endorsers’ experiences. Google can’t misrepresent experiences with “covered” products (including its consumer products), while iHeartMedia can’t misrepresent experiences with “any consumer product or service.” Google and iHeartRadio will also pay $9.4 million to the states they’re settling with.

“We are pleased to resolve this issue,” Google spokesperson José Castañeda said in a statement to The Verge. “We take compliance with advertising laws seriously and have processes in place designed to help ensure we follow relevant regulations and industry standards.” iHeartMedia declined to comment.