The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has fined Epic Games a combined $520 million for illegally collecting the personal information of children under 13, and using so-called “dark patterns” to lead players into making unwanted purchases.
The penalties were announced by the FTC on Monday. In a statement, the agency said that Epic Games would pay $275 million for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and would be forced to “adopt strong privacy default settings for children and teens,” for collecting information on its young player base without their parents’ consent.
Fortnite’s default settings – in which live text and voice chat are enabled – also led to children being bullied, threatened and harassed, the statement read. Despite complaints from employees and reports of children being sexually harassed, Epic refused to change these settings, the FTC stated.
The fine is the largest penalty ever handed down for a COPPA violation.
Epic Games was also hit with a separate fine of $245 million for using “dark patterns” to dupe players into making unwanted purchases. By switching between button configurations and ensuring that some button presses authorized transactions even while on loading screens, the company extracted “hundreds of millions of dollars in unauthorized charges” from players, the FTC explained.
According to the statement, Epic also allowed children to purchase in-game currency without the consent of their parents.
Released in 2017, Fortnite’s ‘Battle Royale’ mode took the gaming world by storm, and has remained one of the world’s most popular online titles since. Although free to play, Fortnite had earned Epic Games an estimated $1 billion in microtransactions by July 2018. As of this April, Epic Games is worth around $32 billion.
Epic Games addressed the latter fine in a statement, saying that its online store has since been revamped and no longer misleads users. The company said that the $245 million will be used by the FTC to refund users at the agency’s discretion, and that it had tightened up its privacy settings for underage players.
“We accepted this agreement because we want Epic to be at the forefront of consumer protection and provide the best experience for our players,” the firm added.