Epic Games, the developer and publisher of the wildly popular online game Fortnite, has been forced to pay a big fine for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has secured an agreement for Epic Games to pay a total of $520 million in relief, due to using “design tricks, known as dark patterns, to dupe millions of players into making unintentional purchases.”
The record-breaking total stems from two separate settlements. The first is a $275 million fine for violating COPPA. As part of that settlement, Epic will have to use stronger privacy setting for minors, including that voice and text chat are turned off by default.
The second is a $245 million refund to consumers due to Fortnite’s egregious billing practices — the largest ever refund in a gaming case.
“As our complaints note, Epic used privacy-invasive default settings and deceptive interfaces that tricked Fortnite users, including teenagers and children,” said Lina M. Khan, FTC Chair. “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.”
“Epic put children and teens at risk through its lax privacy practices, and cost consumers millions in illegal charges through its use of dark patterns,” said Samuel Levine, Director, FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Under the proposed orders announced today, the company will be required to change its default settings, return millions to consumers, and pay a record-breaking penalty for its privacy abuses.”
To break it down, Epic Games violated the privacy of children under 13 by collecting personal information without notifying parental consent, as well as enabling real-time voice and chat communications by default.
They also employed “dark patterns” to purposefully confuse and manipulate players of all ages into making unintended purchases — including allowing children under 13 to purchase V-Bucks without any parental consent.
Fortnite is one of the most popular games in the world, especially among younger gamers. It’s free to play on PC, consoles, and mobile devices, and supported by microtransactions and battle passes.