In what seems to be the biggest Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) violation, EPIC Games are sued and will now pay a whopping $520 million as a fine. The Federal Trade Commission has charged the Fortnite’s creator Epic with history’s largest fine for a COPPA violation ever paid. And this comes from the finding that Epic has been using ‘dark patterns’ to trick users, especially those below age of 13, into making unintended payments, says FTC.

Why the Federal Trade Commission has sued Epic Games for $520 million

Fortnite and Fall Guy creator Epic Games today stands as one of the largest gaming giants. Primarily due to their free-to-play battle royale arena-style game – Fortnite. Although Fortnite is free-to-play, many of its perks can be bought.

Epic has been quite witty in their dealings, as to ensure their highest profit. But the recent unfolding hints that they have been using unfair means for charging customers beyond their consent. So how exactly have Epic Games been doing that? And why specifically did Epic Games get sued?

US’s Federal Trade Commissions’ primary charge against Epic Games

The US Federal Trade Commission building
The US Federal Trade Commission building, image courtesy of Getty images

“Epic used privacy-invasive default settings and deceptive interfaces that tricked Fortnite users, including teenagers and children,” said FTC Chairperson Lina Khan.

FTC’s primary charge against the North Carolina-based company is that they have been using inconsistent and confusing button configurations. Such a navigation system in-game leads to players clicking in places that lead them to incur charges.

  • What does that mean? It means players could be charged while waking the game from sleep mode. For pressing certain buttons when the game was on the loading screen. Or by pressing a nearby button when trying to preview an item – elaborates FTC.

The FTC was also concerned with how the live text and chat option was always turned on in-game, which has led many under 13 players to harassment and abuse.

How Epic Games’ dark patterns violate Children’s Online Privacy Explained

  1. Such patterns which the FTC uses the term ‘dark patterns’, violate Children’s Online Privacy consent. It directly exploits under 13 players without any forewarning to their parents.
  2. So the primary contention is that firstly they charged users without their consent, plus they did it to a playerbase that included children below 13 years of age. Which violates the COPPA.

“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.” Said Lina Khan.

Epic Games sued; how will they settle the case?

Epic Games sued by FTC for breaking COPPA
Epic Games store logo, image courtesy of EPIC

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has now settled Epic Games for a $520 million penalty. The fine will be paid in two settlements.

  1. One is $275 million for violation of the FTC backed COPPA rule.
  2. And the second settlement is $245 million.

The latter will be refunded back to all the users who were victims of these deceiving practices by Epic Games. It is also notable that $275 million is the largest sum for a penalty ever paid in violation of the Children Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

Epic Games’ response to FTC charges

In defense, Epic Games has reminded its audience that they shall adhere to the guidelines of the FTC. Primarily because it lies in their interest to provide a uniform and just platform for their gamers.

Because nobody, no gaming company, wants to end up charged with $520 million charges. Implying that it lies in their best interest too to get themselves straight and fair.

“Statutes written decades ago don’t specify how gaming ecosystems should operate. The laws have not changed, but their application has evolved and long-standing industry practices are no longer enough, We accepted this agreement because we want Epic to be at the forefront of consumer protection and provide the best experience for our players.”

Said Epic in one of their statements.

SOURCES: Federal Trade Commission

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Rhytham is a Philosophy graduate who founded a state-level organization that promotes anime and Japanese culture in his home state of Assam India. The org is named Assam Senpai Society. He is also an ardent writer, poet, musician, vocalist, graphic designer, and photoshop artist. He has worked on multiple state and national level conventions. Other than anime, catch him watching western series that really have in themselves the solidity to catch his attention.