The creator of the video game Fortnite is to pay out a record $520m (€490m) in fines and refunds for “tricking” children into buying things within the game.
he ruling, made by the US Federal Trade Commission, found that Epic Games “deployed dark patterns to dupe millions of players into making unintentional purchases”.
The watchdog said that this included things such as costumes and dances, while players often unintentionally bought items such ‘V-bucks’, the in-game currency. It also said that Fortnite set up its game in a way that often did not require parental consent for children to make purchases. And it said that, by enabling voice and text chat communications by default, children were sometimes bullied and upset.
The ruling applies to Fortnite users in the US.
“As our complaints note, Epic used privacy-invasive default settings and deceptive interfaces that tricked Fortnite users, including teenagers and children,” said FTC chairperson Lina Khan.
Fortnite is generally free to download and play but charges users for in-game items. It has more than 400 million users worldwide and made more than $9bn in its first two years.
“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,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “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.”
In a complaint filed in a US court, the FTC alleged that Epic violated the US COPPA privacy law by collecting personal information from children under 13 who played Fortnite, a child-directed online service, without notifying their parents or obtaining their parents’ verifiable consent.
The company’s “counterintuitive, inconsistent, and confusing button configuration” meant, the FYC said, that hundreds of millions of dollars of unintended in-game purchases were made “based on the press of a single button.”
As an example, the FTC said that users could be charged “while attempting to wake the game from sleep, while the game was in a loading screen, or by pressing an adjacent button while attempting simply to preview an item”.
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