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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has said Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, will pay $520 million to settle allegations of violating children’s privacy laws and using dark patterns to trick millions of players to make unintentional in-game purchases.

Although Fortnite is free to download and play, Epic charges players for in-game items such as dance moves and costumes. Fortnite has a huge player base of over 400 million users worldwide, according to the FTC.

The settlement includes a record $275 million monetary penalty for violating the COPPA rule, the largest penalty ever for violating an FTC rule, as well as a $245 million refund for affected consumers. Epic’s dark billing practices and schemes, the FTC’s biggest administrative order yet. and the largest gambling case refund amount in history.

The FTC alleged in its complaint that the creator of Fortnite violated COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) by harvesting personal information from Fortnite players under the age of 13 without notifying or obtaining their verifiable consent from their parents.

Epic’s decision to enable real-time voice and text communications by default for children and teens would also put them at risk of bullying, harassment, and other forms of harm.

“As early as 2017, Epic employees urged the company to change default settings to require users to opt in to voice chat, citing concerns about the impact on children in particular,” the FTC said.

“Despite this and reports of children being harassed, including sexually, while playing the game, the company resisted disabling the default settings. users to disable voice chat, Epic made it difficult for users to find, according to the complaint.”

In addition to the record civil fine of $275 million imposed through a proposed federal court order, Epic will also be required to make text and voice communications in Fortnite an enable feature for children and teens. which can only be enabled with affirmative parental consent via a privacy setting.

Tweet by Lina Khan Epic Games

Millions of players “wrongly accused”

In addition to COPPA violations, the FTC also alleged in a separate administrative complaint that Epic used dark schemes to trick Fortnite players, including children and teens, into making unwanted in-game purchases.

Some of the dark schemes used to achieve this included various confusing purchase prompts and misleading offers that led players to make purchases they had no intention of making.

“For example, players could be charged for trying to wake the game from sleep mode, while the game was in a loading screen, or for pressing an adjacent button while simply trying to preview an item,” the game explained. FTC.

“These tactics have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in unauthorized charges to consumers.”

The company also allegedly charged hundreds of dollars to account holders (the parents of children and teens) without authorization and locked players’ accounts after contesting the unauthorized charges.

In addition to having to reimburse $245 million to affected customers and being ordered to stop using dark models or charging customers without their consent, Epic has no right to block players’ access to their accounts after disputing unauthorized charges.

“Epic ignored over a million user complaints and repeated employee concerns that a ‘huge’ number of users were being wrongly charged,” the FTC said. added.

“In fact, Epic’s changes only made the problem worse, according to the FTC. Using internal testing, Epic deliberately obfuscated the undo and refund features to make them harder to find.”


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