Federal Trade Commission (FTC), has announced that Epic Games, maker of Fortnite will pay $520m to resolve allegations it violated children’s privacy laws. Dark patterns were used to deceive millions of gamers into buying in-game items.
Fortnite can be downloaded and played for free, but Epic will charge players to purchase in-game costumes and dance moves. According to FTC, Fortnite boasts a large player base with more than 400,000,000 users around the world.
This settlement contains a record breaking $275 million monetary fine for violating the COPPA Rule. It is also the biggest penalty ever for an FTC rule violation. Additionally, a refund of $245 million for customers affected by Epic’s billing practices, dark patterns and other irregularities, FTC’s largest administrative order and largest amount ever in gaming cases, amounts to $245 million.
FTC claimed in its Fortnite’s creator had violated COPPA ( ). Fortnite users under 13 were harvested personal data without their consent.
Epic’s decision for teens and children to have real-time voice/text chat communication by default posed a risk of harassment and bullying.
The FTC stated that Epic employees had urged Epic to alter the default settings so users could opt in to voice chat. They were particularly concerned about children’s safety.
“Despite these and other reports of children being harassed sexually while they were playing the game,” Epic refused to turn off default settings. Epic did not add a button that would allow users to disable voice chat, but it made it hard for them to locate, according to the complaint.
Epic must make Fortnite voice and text communications an opt-in option for teens and children. This will be in addition to the proposed $275 million civil record penalty.
Many millions of gamers “wrongfully charged”.
The FTC, in a , also alleged that Epic used dark techniques to trick Fortnite players (including children) into buying unwelcome in-game items.
This was achieved by using a variety of confusing purchasing prompts and misleading offers to get gamers to buy things they didn’t intend to.
The FTC stated that players might be charged if they try to awaken the game while it was still in sleep mode or press an adjacent button to simply preview an item.
These tactics resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of unauthorized charges being levied on consumers.”
Account holders, which included teens and their parents, were also accused of being charged hundreds of dollars by the company. Players’ accounts were then locked after disputing these charges.
Epic has been ordered to refund $245 million to customers who were affected and to cease using dark patterns on customers or charging them without their consent. Epic cannot also block players from accessing their accounts if they dispute unauthorised charges.
The FTC stated that Epic ignored over one million complaints from users and repeatedly raised concerns by employees about the fact that large numbers of users were wrongly charged.
The FTC claimed that Epic’s modifications only made matters worse. Epic deliberately made cancel and refund functions more difficult to locate by using internal testing.