Epic Games, the company behind the popular game Fortnite, was fined $520 million by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and using “design tricks, known as dark patterns, to dupe millions of players into making unintentional purchases”.
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The FTC confirmed the charges against the North Carolina-based company in a release on Monday. The release said that the firm will pay a total of $520 million, out of which $275 million will be paid to FTC as fines while $245 million will be paid to consumers as a refund for its “dark patterns and billing practices”.
Dark patterns refer to online deception techniques used to dupe users into making unintentional purchases. Fortnite is a free-to-download game, but it charges users for in-app purchases such as costumes and dance moves.
“As our complaints note, Epic used privacy-invasive default settings and deceptive interfaces that tricked Fortnite users, including teenagers and children,” FTC Chair Lina M. Khan was quoted saying in the release.
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“Protecting the public, and especially children, from online privacy invasions and dark patterns is a top priority for the Commission, and these enforcement actions make clear to businesses that the FTC is cracking down on these unlawful practices,” he further added.
The release also noted that the $245 refund amount is the largest ever in FTC’s history. Additionally, it is also the largest administrative order ever by the FTC.
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The body also ruled that Epic Games will henceforth be required to adopt strong privacy default settings for children and teens.
“Epic put children and teens at risk through its lax privacy practices, and cost consumers millions in illegal charges through its use of dark patterns,” Samuel Levine, the Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said.
“Under the proposed orders announced today, the company will be required to change its default settings, return millions to consumers, and pay a record-breaking penalty for its privacy abuses,” he added.