Epic Games Fined $500 Million for Stealing Data and Tricking Children Using Fortnite

Epic Games has been accused of collecting children’s information and deceptive billing in the popular video game Fornite. US regulators have also said that the game’s voice chat options must be turned off for younger children.

Video game company Epic Games will pay $520 million in penalties and refunds in two separate cases, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said on Monday. Epic Games is settling allegations that it illegally collected children’s personal information and used deceptive interfaces and billing practices in its battle royale game.

The Complaints

“Epic used privacy-invasive default settings and deceptive interfaces that tricked Fortnite users, including teenagers and children,” FTC Chair Lina Khan said. Epic Games has agreed to pay a $275 million penalty for collecting personal information on Fortnite players under the age of 13 without informing their parents or getting their consent. This is one of the biggest fines ever issued for infringement of FTC regulations.

Besides concerns around privacy, US regulators said that the game used billing practices that lead players to unwillingly make purchases.

Fortnite’s counterintuitive, inconsistent, and confusing button configuration led players to incur unwanted charges based on the press of a single button.

Epic Games is refunding $245 million to customers who fell victim to such practices, known as “dark patterns.”

Players could, for example, be charged while trying to wake the game from sleep mode, while the game was in a loading screen, or by pressing a nearby button when simply trying to preview an item. These tactics led to hundreds of millions of dollars in unauthorized charges for consumers.

The FTC also said that Fortnite voice and text chat options must be turned off by default to prevent children from being exposed to potential harassment.

Children and teens have been bullied, threatened, harassed, and exposed to dangerous and psychologically traumatizing issues such as suicide while on Fortnite.

Epic’s Comments

Epic Games said that it seeks to resolve concerns over “past designs of the Fortnite item shop and refund systems.” The company said that the FTC will distribute the money to customers “at their discretion.” “Statutes written decades ago don’t specify how gaming ecosystems should operate,” the company said.

The laws have not changed, but their application has evolved and long-standing industry practices are no longer enough.

Epic Games said that it is implementing an explicit yes/no choice to save payment information and that it had created features like easy-to-access parental controls and a daily spending limit for children under 13.

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