Epic Games Fined Record $520M After ‘Fortnite’ Violates Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act

Photo by Vlad Gorshkov via Unsplash

Epic Games Fined Record $520M After ‘Fortnite’ Violates Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act

By Movieguide® Staff

Epic Games, the developer known for the massively popular video game Fortnite, recently paid $520 million in two settlements with the Federal Trade Commission due to violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

According to the lawsuits, Epic Games tricked millions of players into making unintentional purchases.

Deadline reported:

As part of a proposed federal court order filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FTC, Epic will pay a $275 million for violating the privacy reg — the largest penalty ever obtained for violating an FTC rule, the agency said.

Separately, the game maker will pay $245 million under a proposed administrative order to refund consumers for its so called “dark patterns” billing practices. The FTC called this the largest refund amount in a gaming case, and its largest administrative order in history.

FTC Chair Lina Khan addressed the lawsuit in a statement, noting Epic Games “deceptive interfaces” that targeted children.

“As our complaints note, Epic used privacy-invasive default settings and deceptive interfaces that tricked Fortnite users, including teenagers and children,” Khan explained. “Protecting the public, and especially children, from online privacy invasions and dark patterns is a top priority for the Commission, and these enforcement actions make clear to businesses that the FTC is cracking down on these unlawful practices.”

“The Justice Department takes very seriously its mission to protect consumers’ data privacy rights,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta told Deadline. “This proposed order sends a message to all online providers that collecting children’s personal information without parental consent will not be tolerated.”

Epic Games said that they did not have malicious intent, but that the old statutes should not apply as the landscape of video games is changing quickly.

“No developer creates a game with the intention of ending up here. The video game industry is a place of fast-moving innovation, where player expectations are high and new ideas are paramount. Statutes written decades ago don’t specify how gaming ecosystems should operate. The laws have not changed, but their application has evolved and long-standing industry practices are no longer enough. We accepted this agreement because we want Epic to be at the forefront of consumer protection and provide the best experience for our players,” their statement said. “Over the past few years, we’ve been making changes to ensure our ecosystem meets the expectations of our players and regulators, which we hope will be a helpful guide for others in our industry.”

The “statute” in question is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) which Epic Games violated by collecting personal information from kids under the age of 13—without consent from their parents or guardian.

But personal information was not the only concern that the FTC had with Fortnite.

In 2017, concerns arose over the use of in-game voice chat to abuse young children.

“Despite this and reports that children had been harassed, including sexually, while playing the game, the company resisted turning off the default settings. And while it eventually added a button allowing users to turn voice chat off, Epic made it difficult for users to find, according to the complaint,” the FTC said.

The FTC claimed that Fortnite’s interface made it too confusing to opt out of unwanted purchases.

“Fortnite’s counterintuitive, inconsistent, and confusing button configuration led players to incur unwanted charges based on the press of a single button,” the FTC notes. “For example, players could be charged while attempting to wake the game from sleep mode, while the game was in a loading screen, or by pressing an adjacent button while attempting simply to preview an item. These tactics led to hundreds of millions of dollars in unauthorized charges for consumers.”

The Epic Games game is free to play, but offers countless in-game purchases.

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