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In brief: Epic Games has agreed to pay a total of $520 million to settle allegations that it violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by collecting personal information from children under the age of 13, and for deploying tactics designed to trick players into making unintentional purchases.
Epic will fork over $275 million for its COPPA violation, which the FTC said is the largest penalty ever obtained for violating one of its rules. A separate proposed order will see Epic pay an additional $245 million to refund customers for alleged "dark patterns" and billing practices, the largest refund amount ever in a gaming-related case.
Dark patterns, also known as deceptive design patters, are intentional design elements used in apps, on websites and in games to get the end user to perform an unintended action such as signing up for a newsletter, clicking on something they did not mean to or even buying something.
The FTC alleged that Epic utilized such tactics in Fortnite by implementing confusing button configurations. "Players could be charged while attempting to wake the game from sleep mode, while the game was in a loading screen, or by pressing an adjacent button while attempting simply to preview an item," the agency noted. This reportedly led to hundreds of millions of dollars in unauthorized charges for consumers.
Epic also found itself on the FTC's naughty list for allegedly charging account holders without authorization and blocking access to purchased content when a customer disputed an unauthorized charge on their credit card.
Epic in a published statement said no developer creates a game with the intention of ending up here, adding that they are accepting the agreement because they want to be at the forefront of consumer protection and provide the best experience for their players.
The FTC will use the $245 million settlement to provide refunds to impacted Fortnite gamers and parents of children that made unwanted or unauthorized purchases in the US. More information on the refund program will be provided at a later date, the FTC said.
Potentially affected users are encouraged to bookmark the FTC Fortnite page and check back often for updates.
Image credit: Sebastian Pichler, Erik Mclean