The US Federal Trade Commission has slapped Fortnite maker Epic Games with a record-breaking $520 million (£427 million) fine for alleging it had previously employed “lax privacy practices” on voice and text chat and used design tricks, to “fool millions of players”. ” into accidental purchases.
The eye opening evaluation includes the largest settlement ever reached by the FTC under the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, allowing Fortnite by default to allow in-game chat and the collection of user data.
Fortnite is rated “Teen” by the US ratings body ESRB, but the FTC has argued that Epic Games knew many of its users were likely under the age of 13 and had not obtained parental consent.
The remainder of the fine relates to a separate FTC decision that found Fortnite contained “illegal dark patterns” to “trick players into making unwanted purchases and allow children to make unauthorized charges without parental involvement.”
The FTC claims Fortnite employed a “counter-intuitive, inconsistent, and confusing button configuration design” that allowed users to purchase things by mistake. Before 2018, it was too easy for kids to buy in-game currency without parental consent, the FTC continued. Another criticism was that Epic Games had blocked the accounts of customers who used their credit cards to post-charge back purchases — some in the thousands of dollars.
Epic Games responded with their own response detailed explanation of the transactionoutlining how Fortnite has evolved over the years and how she says the FTC has used “statutes written decades ago” to target “longstanding industry practices” which she now agrees ” no longer sufficient”.
“We accepted this agreement because we want Epic to be at the forefront of consumer protection and provide the best experience for our players,” Epic Games wrote. “Over the last few years we’ve made changes to ensure our ecosystem meets the expectations of our stakeholders and regulators, which will hopefully be a helpful guide for others in our industry.”
Epic Games’ statement highlights the changes it’s made over the past four years to address the FTC’s concerns — including a refund token system (added in May 2018) and a newer system for undoing purchases. More recently, the game now requires you to hold down a button to purchase to confirm intent.
As for the FTC’s privacy concerns for children, Epic noted the recent introduction of Cabined Accounts for children under 13 — a type of Epic Account that lacks certain features like chat and shopping.
“No developer makes a game with the intention of ending up here. The video game industry is a place of fast-paced innovation, where player expectations are high and new ideas are paramount,” wrote Epic Games. “Laws written decades ago do not specify how gaming ecosystems should function. The laws have not changed, but their application has evolved and longstanding industry practices are no longer sufficient.
“The old status quo for in-game commerce and privacy has changed, and many developer practices should be reconsidered. We share the underlying principles of fairness, transparency and privacy that the FTC enforces, and the practices referenced in the FTC’s complaints are not how Fortnite works,” concluded Epic Games. “We will continue to be open about what players can expect when making purchases, making sure cancellations and refunds are easy, and implementing safeguards that help keep our ecosystem safe and fun for viewers of all ages.”
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