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Epic Games to Pay Record $520 Million to Settle FTC Charges Over Child Privacy and Player Manipulation

The Federal Trade Commission has accused the leading video game developer of manipulating young players into unintentional purchases, illegally collecting personal information of kids under the age of 13, and endangering children by connecting them with strangers in its hugely successful ‘Fortnight’ game.

Mess with the kids, get the fine. Epic Games, creator of child-oriented video games such as Fortnite, Rocket League, and Fall Guys, has been accused by the Federal Trade Commission of manipulating players. This manipulation, also called “dark patterns,” allegedly tricks players, whom are predominantly children, into making unintentional purchases. The F.T.C. also accuses Epic of illegally collecting personal information of minors and putting them in danger by connecting them with strangers over the internet.

Epic swiftly agreed to pay $520 million in fines and refunds, setting a record-breaking precedent for other gaming companies that may think of employing the same practices. The F.T.C. crackdown comes after chairperson Lina M. Khan pledged to act more assertively towards the tech industry, especially in terms of mental health, safety, and privacy risks. Earlier this month, the agency filed a lawsuit to block Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard to prevent further monopolization.

“Protecting the public, and especially children, from online privacy invasions and dark patterns is a top priority for the commission,” Ms. Khan said in a statement on Monday about the Fortnite case. “These enforcement actions make clear to businesses that the F.T.C. is cracking down on these unlawful practices.”

Epic will pay $275 million for the alleged violation of Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, for the collection of personal information from children under 13 without verifiable consent from a parent or guardian. In addition, $245 million will be refunded to consumers for manipulative market tactics that encouraged purchases. Both sums dwarf previous benchmarks for similar crimes. Unsurprisingly, no specific fine was drawn for endangering young players by connecting them with strangers, as many games currently allow this feature on online multiplayer modes.

Despite Epic’s hefty settlement agreement, a statement from the developer claims, “the practices referenced in the F.T.C.’s complaints are not how Fortnite operates,” adding in a separate statement, “No developer creates a game with the intention of ending up here. We accepted this agreement because we want Epic to be at the forefront of consumer protection and provide the best experience for our players.”

Laurén Alexa's picture

Cybersecurity specialist by day, investigative journalist by night.