Courts

Texas AG Ken Paxton Sues Google Over ‘Misleading’ Endorsements for Pixel4 Smartphone

Ken Paxton is a prolific filer of lawsuits.
Ken Paxton is a prolific filer of lawsuits. Gabriel Aponte / Getty Images
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed another lawsuit against Google.

On Wednesday, Paxton’s office announced the suit against Google LLC, which Paxton accuses of “engaging in false and misleading practices” that violate Texas’ Deceptive Trade Practices – Consumer Protection Act.

As part of the lawsuit, Paxton’s seeking a “temporary and permanent injunction” to force Google to “cease its misleading practices,” as well as “civil monetary penalties for past misconduct,” a press release said.

The lawsuit stems from a working relationship between Google and iHeartMedia, a San Antonio-based media company most widely known for radio and podcasting programming.

According to Paxton’s office, Google hired iHeartMedia to produce ads in Dallas-Fort Worth and the Houston area that promoted a Google smartphone called “Pixel4.”

The way Paxton and his office tell it, Google’s ads were deceptive because they had iHeartMedia radio disc jockeys endorse the Pixel4 although they never used the phone, which hadn’t yet been released. The press release also alleges that Google “refused to provide samples” of the smartphone to iHeartMedia.

“iHeartMedia realized the script Google provided would be misleading to consumers and explained these concerns, but Google refused to acquiesce and insisted on the DJs recording ‘first-hand testimonials’ for a product they had never used,” Paxton’s press release added.

Paxton himself was quoted in the release: “This is not the first time I have had to address bad behavior by Big Tech companies. They are not above the law, and I will make sure they are held accountable for their misleading business practices.

The attorney general added, “Google will not continue manipulating Texas consumers.”

"[T]he AG’s allegations appear to misrepresent what occurred here." - José Castañeda, Google

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In an email, Google spokesperson José Castañeda said the company is still reviewing the complaint but that Paxton’s “allegations appear to misrepresent what occurred here.”

Castañeda added, “We take compliance with advertising laws seriously and have policies in place designed to help ensure we follow relevant regulations and industry standards.”

Back in December 2020, Paxton's office announced that the Texas AG was leading a coalition of 10 Republican attorneys general against Google for allegedly monopolizing "online-display advertising includes an anticompetitive agreement with Facebook, making misrepresentations to users and customers, and suppressing competition."

In January 2021, The Associated Press reported that Paxton was seeking $43 million in public funds to hire lawyers to continue work on that lawsuit and replace "top staff" who had left the attorney general's office amid allegations of bribery against Paxton.

Paxton, who is up for reelection later this year, has been accused of several felonies in recent years. Since 2015, he's been facing three felony charges related to investorments in a McKinney-based startup company.

In February 2021, the Texas Tribune reported that former Paxton aides had accused the attorney general of securing a job for his mistress and boosting an Austin-based real estate developer's business in exchange for getting his home renovated. (The FBI is investigating Paxton over the accusations.)

In the meantime, Paxton is also facing off in the GOP primary election against U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Republican from East Texas. 
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Patrick Strickland is the news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's a former senior reporter at Al Jazeera English and has reported for the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.