Fortnite: Epic to pay more than half a billion dollars fine

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Half a billion US dollars, that’s not an amount of money that a developer studio just pays out of petty cash, not even if it’s the successful studio Epic Games, which has conquered millions of gamers’ hearts with the Battle Royale Fortnite. Those responsible for Epic Games are now supposed to raise this amount of money after negotiations with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in order to solve two problems at the same time – so the people of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in an official statement dated December 19, 2022.

The short version of it, by us through Deepl hunted: “Epic will pay a $275 million fine for violating the Children’s Privacy Act, change default privacy settings and pay $245 million in refunds for enticing users into making unwanted charges.”

Personal data of players under the age of 13

Those responsible for Epic have to shell out 275 million US dollars because, according to the investigations of the FTC and a complaint submitted to the Department of Justice, in Fortnite against the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) has violated. This law protecting children’s online privacy provides the following: If you want to register in a web forum based on American software, you must indicate whether you are over or under 13 years of age. If you are under the age of 13, parental consent is required to complete registration.

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COPPA was violated by Epic. Data was collected from Fortnite players under the age of 13 without parental notification or consent. The FTC also investigated unfair practices in enabling voice and text chat by default. In the eyes of the investigators, this harms children and young people. There have been reports of teenage gamers being subjected to bullying, threats, insults, and dangerous and psychologically traumatizing issues.

Epic Games employees had also expressed concerns about the default settings in 2017. “[…] the company refused to disable the default settings. While it eventually added a button for users to turn off voice chat, the complaint said it was difficult for users to find,” the FTC said in a statement.

The people at Epic Games not only have to pay the $275 million fine, but they also have to change the default privacy settings for children and young people. Voice and text chat should be automatically disabled unless the parents of the kids under 13 or the teens specifically agree to turn on the chat.

In addition to bullying, insults and harassment, the FTC’s statement regarding the harmfulness of the automatically activated chat system in Fortnite addresses the topic of “psychologically traumatizing topics”. This includes suicide. We therefore consider this notice to be appropriate:

If you are contemplating suicide or you know someone, nothing is more important than talking to someone about it. If you don’t want to confide in friends or relatives, you can contact the counseling service anonymously, around the clock and free of charge on 0800/111 0 111.

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Other numbers for quick help are the number against grief (116 111), in an emergency the police (110) or the rescue service (112). The Society for Suicide Prevention also has an overview of the offers on its website

Illegal “dark patterns”

As such, dark patterns are sinister ways to achieve something that would be unattainable with full transparency. “In a separate administrative complaint, the FTC alleged that Epic used obscure patterns to entice players into making unwanted purchases and allowed children to accumulate improper expenses without parental involvement,” the FTC said. “For example, players could [mit Abbuchungen] be charged if they attempt to wake the game from sleep while the game is in a loading screen, or if they press an adjacent key while merely attempting to preview an item. These tactics resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in unwarranted consumer charges.”

For this reason, among others, those responsible for Epic Games have to provide another 245 million US dollars for reimbursements. “Up until 2018, Epic allowed kids to buy V-Bucks by simply pressing buttons, without parental or cardholder intervention or consent. Some parents complained that their kids had accumulated hundreds of dollars in fees before they noted that Epic charged their credit card without their consent.The FTC has filed similar lawsuits against companies including Amazon, Apple, and Google for charging consumers millions of dollars for in-app purchases made by children while playing Mobile apps were made without obtaining parental consent.”