CARY, N.C. (WNCN) — Cary-based video game maker Epic Games will have to pay $520 million for violating a federal act by deploying design tricks, known as dark patterns, to dupe millions of players into making unintentional purchases.
By violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), the Fortnite creator will pay a record $275 million, the Federal Trade Commission announced Monday. This was part of a proposed federal court order filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FTC.
Under a separate proposed administrative order, Epic will pay an additional $245 million to refund consumers for its dark patterns and billing practices, which is the FTC’s largest refund amount in a gaming case, and its largest administrative order in history, the FTC said in a release.
Epic Games stated it “implemented high privacy-default settings for players under the age of 18. Chat defaults to “Nobody,” profile details default to hidden, parties default to “Invite Only,” and personalized recommendations are defaulted Off. Players under 16 also have the mature language filter defaulted On for text chat” in September.
“As our complaints note, Epic used privacy-invasive default settings and deceptive interfaces that tricked Fortnite users, including teenagers and children,” said FTC Chair Lina M. Khan. “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.”
Epic’s video game Fortnite is generally free to download and play but charges users for in-game items such as costumes and dance moves. The game has more than 400 million users worldwide.
“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.”