Fortnite maker Epic Games hit with $520 million FTC fine

The US Federal Trade Commission has fined Fortnite maker Epic Games a record $520m (£427m) over allegations it previously used ‘lax privacy practices’ for chat voice and text, and used design tricks to “fool millions of players”. ” in involuntary purchases.

The eye-opening ruling includes the most significant settlement the FTC has ever secured regarding U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, as Fortnite allowed in-game chat and user data collection by default.

Fortnite holds a “Teen” rating by the US rating board ESRB, but the FTC argued that Epic Games knew many of its users were likely under 13 and had not obtained parental consent.

Fortnite’s visually stunning Chapter 4 gets the Digital Foundry treatment.

The remainder of the fine relates to a separate FTC ruling that Fortnite included “illegal dark patterns” to “encourage players to make unwanted purchases and let children accrue unauthorized charges without parental involvement.”

The FTC claims that Fortnite has applied a “counterintuitive, inconsistent, and confusing button layout” design that allows users to buy things accidentally. Before 2018, it was too easy for children to buy in-game currency without parental consent, the FTC said. Another point of criticism was that Epic Games locked the accounts of customers who used their credit cards to subsequently charge for purchases – some of which were in the thousands of dollars.

Epic Games responded with its own detailed statement on the settlement, outlining how it has evolved Fortnite over the years and how it believes the FTC has used “laws written decades ago” to target “long-running practices”. industry date” which it nevertheless has now. agreed were no longer “enough”.

“We agreed to 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 past few years, we’ve made changes to ensure our ecosystem meets the expectations of our players and regulators, which we hope will be a useful guide for others in our industry.”

Epic Games’ statement highlights the changes it has implemented over the past four years to address FTC concerns, including a refund token system (added in May 2018) and a most recent canceled purchase. Even more recently, the game now requires you to hold a button to buy to confirm intent.

Regarding the FTC’s child privacy concerns, Epic pointed to its recent launch of cabin accounts for children under 13 – a type of Epic account where certain features such as chat and purchases are not available. not available.

“No developer creates 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,” Epic wrote. Games. “Laws written decades ago do not specify how gaming ecosystems should operate. The laws have not changed, but their application has evolved and long-standing 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 upholds, and the practices referenced in the FTC complaints are not the way Fortnite operates,” Epic Games concluded. “We’ll continue to be upfront about what players can expect when making purchases, make sure cancellations and refunds are simple, and have safeguards in place that help keep our ecosystem safe and secure. fun for audiences of all ages.”

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