In a privacy complaint filed Monday, the FTC said Epic caused “substantial” harm to children by enabling live voice and text chat by default and by pairing children and teens with adult strangers to play Fortnite.
Children and teens “have been bullied, threatened, and harassed, including sexually, while playing Fortnite,” the complaint said, adding that some have also experienced traumatic issues such as suicide and self-harm as a result of playing the game. While Fortnite has introduced some related privacy and parental controls over the years, the watchdog said the changes “do not significantly mitigate these harms or enable players to avoid them.”
As part of the proposed settlement, Epic Games is required to adopt high privacy defaults for children and teens, including turning off real-time text and voice chat by default for younger users. The company said it has done so.
This month, Epic Games said it was rolling out a new type of account for younger users called “cabined accounts,” in which features like live chat and in-app purchases are disabled by default. Players who indicate they are under 13, or under the digital age of consent in their country, will default to a tied account and will be asked to provide their parent’s email address before they can access features such as live voice chat, the company said. .
Epic also agreed to pay $245 million to refund consumers over allegations that it used manipulative online practices to trick players of all ages into making unintended purchases. In a separate complaint, the regulator said that, among other problems, the layout of Fortnite’s user interface was counterintuitive, inconsistent and confusing, resulting in users being charged for simply pressing a button.
Players may be charged when attempting to activate the game from sleep mode or when the game loads, the complaint said. The kids end up racking up fees without their parents knowing. The agency said these so-called dark mode techniques cost users hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary costs.
Epic said in a statement that long-standing industry standards are no longer sufficient to protect players in the rapidly evolving video game industry.