Fortnite developer fined $520 million for mishandling children’s data and ‘dark patterns’

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Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan – July 6 2019: Fortnite app in play smartphone. close-up on screen iphone. (Savusia Konstantin/Getty Images)

Fortnite developer fined $520 million for mishandling children’s data and ‘dark patterns’

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The developer of the battle royal game Fortnite has agreed to pay a record $520 million settlement to resolve allegations that it had mishandled children’s data and forced players to purchase its in-game currency.

Epic Games agreed to pay the fees as a settlement to resolve complaints from the Federal Trade Commission. The developer agreed to pay the settlement to resolve two separate complaints. The company had allegedly violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires companies to minimize the amounts of data they gather about teenagers and children. It also reportedly tricked users into purchasing V-Bucks, the premium currency used to buy products in the game.

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“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, in a press statement. “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.”

“The old status quo for in-game commerce and privacy has changed,” Epic Games said in a press release. “And many developer practices should be reconsidered. We share the underlying principles of fairness, transparency, and privacy that the FTC enforces, and the practices referenced in the FTC’s complaints are not how Fortnite operates.”

Epic Games allegedly collected personal data from children for marketing purposes without parents’ consent, according to the FTC. The company is now required to improve its default privacy settings for younger users and to ensure that all voice and text communications are turned off.

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The company had also allegedly used “dark patterns,” or software elements designed to manipulate users into certain tasks, to trick users into making purchases and regularly charged users without the proper authorization. Epic Games allowed young users in 2018 to purchase V-Bucks without requiring consent from parents or credit card owners. The company also allegedly locked customers who disputed charges on their credit cards out of their accounts. These systems have been amended, Epic Games said.

The settlements will be partly used to provide refunds to customers for purchases they had not authorized.

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