Epic Games has been found guilty of violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) regarding the game “Fortnite”. They’ve been fined $275 million, and are refunding a massive sum of $245 million in unwanted charges. This totals $520 million in recompense fees, making it the largest refund sum in history.
“Fortnite” has gotten in trouble more than once for not considering its player base seriously. A huge portion of their players are pre-teens or younger, meshing with older teenagers and adults that has resulted in harassment, bullying, and reprehensible behavior.
Epic is accused of banking on the ignorance of children to make purchases without their parent’s consent. The cosmetics and emotes “Fortnite” offers in their store are very attractive to kids. “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,” Samuel Levine, the FTC’s director of the consumer protection bureau, said.
What are dark patterns? Interfaces specifically designed to deceive users into action. In this case, kids making purchases ignorant that they’re spending real money. Epic has since released a response to the allegations, promising to do better.
Are They Actually Sorry, Though?
“No developer creates a game with the intention of ending up here. Statutes written decades ago don’t specify how gaming ecosystems should operate,” Epic said in a statement. “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,”
It’s hard to imagine the statement is anything more than Epic covering their behinds. They’ve had plenty of time to change standards and practices in the five years “Fortnite” has been around. And they blame the “statues” and laws of gaming rather than their own apparent oversights. Do we really think they would have changed anything if they hadn’t gotten caught?
Epic recently rolled out Cabined Accounts, which have tailored restrictions to make their platform safer to use for children under the age of consent. Children can still play Fortnite, are restricted from making purchases or use the in-game voice chat. They will have to wait for parent’s consent to do so. Which feels like a bit too little too late.
Looks like they might have to put a pause on building their massive campus mall while paying back what they’ve stolen.