Google violated a Texas state consumer protection law by arranging for radio personalities who hadn't themselves used the Pixel 4 phone to endorse the product, state Attorney General Ken Paxton alleges in a new lawsuit against the company.
“Google provided a script for the Pixel 4 advertisements and demanded that the radio personalities recording the advertisements give a first-hand endorsement of the product,” Paxton alleges in a complaint filed Wednesday in Montgomery County District Court.
“Google knew that the Pixel 4 was not yet on the market and so the radio personalities could not provide an honest endorsement,” the complaint continues.
Google spokesperson José Castañeda says the company will review the complaint, but adds that the allegations "appear to misrepresent what occurred here."
He says: "We take compliance with advertising laws seriously and have policies in place designed to help ensure we follow relevant regulations and industry standards.”
Paxton alleges that Google hired media companies including iHeartMedia to record and broadcast the Pixel 4 ads to listeners in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston markets. Ultimately, eight radio personalities recorded Pixel 4 ads, which ran more than 2,400 times between late October and early December of 2019, according to the complaint.
A “typical” script had the radio hosts praising the Pixel 4 as if they were already using the phone, according to the complaint.
The script allegedly included lines like “It’s my favorite phone camera out there, especially in low light, thanks to Night Sight Mode,” and “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.”
The ads were recorded the week of October 21, 2019, when the endorsers “did not own or regularly use Pixel 4 smartphones; had not taken photographs at night with the Pixel 4 and had not used the Pixel 4’s features for the variety of personal, social, and familial events that the advertisements represented,” Paxton alleges in the complaint.
Paxton also alleges that iHeartMedia expressed concerns to Google, and asked the company's media-buying agent to provide sample Pixel 4s for the radio personalities to use.
Google's media-buying agent -- identified in the complaint as PHD Media -- allegedly told iHeartMedia that it wasn't feasible for Google to send Pixel 4 devices to the radio personalities before they recorded the ads. PHD Media is not a defendant in the case.
“Google ignored iHeartMedia’s warning, opting instead to move forward with the ad-campaign to coincide with the launch of the Pixel 4,” the complaint asserts.
Paxton is seeking financial sanctions and a court order prohibiting Google and its agents from arranging for endorsements that “do not reflect the honest opinions, beliefs or experience of the endorser.”