The developer and operator of Fortnite, Epic Games, has agreed to a hefty settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Under the settlement, the company will pay the FTC a civil penalty of $275 million for violations of the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This is the largest civil penalty ever given for violating an FTC rule. In addition, the company will reimburse consumers for $250 million due to payments that consumers were manipulated into paying because of Fortnite’s deceptive techniques, also known as ‘dark patterns’. The company will be required to adopt more protective default settings for children and teens. This is the largest refund the FTC has secured from a game manufacturer.
The FTC accused the company of several COPPA violations. The FTC alleged that the company knew that many of the game’s players are children under the age of 13 but did not take measures to obtain parental consent for the collection and use of information from the children. The company also made it difficult for parents to request the deletion of their children’s information, sometimes not honoring these requests at all. The FTC also alleged that the company had enabled live text and voice communications among players by default, in a way that is harmful to children and violates the FTC Act.
In a separate administrative complaint, the FTC also accused the company of additional violations. The FTC argued against the company’s use of dark patterns: an unintuitive, inconsistent, and confusing user interface that manipulates users into making purchases they did not want to make, through a single click of a button. The dark patterns also tricked minors into making purchases without parental consent. The company also sanctioned users who disputed the charges, by locking their access to their accounts and threatening that should they dispute any charge in the future, they will be permanently banned from the game.
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