From its earliest days, Fortnite has been a game played by tens of millions of children around the world. Now its publisher, Epic Games, is in very hot water over issues related to this.
It is paying $520m in two settlements with US regulator the Federal Trade Commission (FTC): a $275m fine for violations of the COPPA children’s privacy legislation, and $245m of refunds to consumers for “dark patterns and billing practices” that the FTC said were used “to dupe millions of players into making unintentional purchases”.
It’s an almighty double-OOF for one of the biggest brands in children’s entertainment, with FTC chair Lina Khan spelling out the regulator’s views. “Epic used privacy-invasive default settings and deceptive interfaces that tricked Fortnite users, including teenagers and children,” said Khan.
The COPPA violations included collecting personal data from children under 13 without obtaining ‘verifiable consent’ from parents, and having text and voice communication features turned on by default.
Meanwhile, the billing side of the FTC’s allegations included children being able to buy V-Bucks without parental consent, and also the claim that “Fortnite’s counterintuitive, inconsistent, and confusing button configuration led players to incur unwanted charges based on the press of a single button”.
Epic Games recently launched new ‘Cabined Accounts’ for children in Fortnite, which is clearly part of its response to the FCT action. Where this leaves the company’s efforts to take the moral high ground in its battle with Apple to use its own billing system on iOS remains to be seen.
Update: Epic Games has published its response to the settlements on its blog. It includes information on how it has changed its payment and refund systems, and its measures relating to children’s privacy.
“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 operates,” said the company.
“We will continue to be upfront about what players can expect when making purchases, ensure cancellations and refunds are simple, and build safeguards that help keep our ecosystem safe and fun for audiences of all ages.”
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