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Maker of Fortnite Fined $520M

Business

Fortnite on cell phone | Image by Shutterstock

Epic Games, the maker of the popular game Fortnite, will pay $520 million in penalties and refunds after reaching a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The FTC claims that Fortnite used deceptive billing practices and violated the privacy of its customers under the age of 13.

Of the massive settlement, $245 million will be refunded to customers for unintended purchases, while $275 million will be paid as a penalty for violating the privacy of minors. This is the largest penalty ever assessed for the violation of an FTC rule.

The FTC alleged that players younger than 13 had access to the gaming platform and could use both voice and text chat with strangers, which put children at risk of being “bullied, threatened, harassed and exposed to dangerous and psychologically traumatizing issues such as suicide.”

Furthermore, Epic Games collected data on young players without informing parents or obtaining consent, according to the FTC. As part of the settlement, Fortnite will need to obtain verifiable parental consent and delete all data from minor-owned accounts.

The FTC also claimed that the popular gaming platform “used deceptive interfaces that tricked Fortnite users, including teenagers and children,” said FTC Chair Lina Khan in a statement Monday.

Reportedly, Fortnite would nudge customers into “dark patterns” or unclear billing techniques that tricked users into making unintended purchases.

With a single push of a button, customers were charged “hundreds of millions of dollars in unauthorized charges,” the FTC said. A player could incur charges simply by pressing the wrong button on a loading screen or previewing purchasable items.

Epic claimed in a press release that “[s]aving payment information by default is a common way to streamline the checkout process, so players do not have to re-enter their payment method every time they make a purchase.” However, the gaming company agreed to change this practice for future compliance.

Epic agreed to the terms of the settlement and claimed that its mistakes were due to oversight rather than greed or malice.

“No developer creates a game with the intention of ending up here,” the company said.

Fortnite said that the game was rated Teen and initially not intended for users under the age of 13. However, the platform recognized the concerns and said that “[y]ounger players who are interested in higher-rated games can find ways to access them. Developers should proactively create age-appropriate ways for players to enjoy their games.”

Going forward, Fortnite “rolled out Cabined Accounts [where] chat and purchasing are disabled” for players younger than 13. Moreover, the game is now offering parental controls for children over the age of 13, such as daily spending limits and restricting voice chat features.

“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,” Epic Games continued.

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