Epic Games is raining on wet. Our readers will remember the recent lawsuit against the company run by Tim Sweeney because some parents consider Fortnite to be an addictive product, a lawsuit that we consider to be of limited merit. However, a week after this litigation began, Epic Games has lost another much more important one: the company must pay 520 million dollars for using what has been called “dark patterns” to deceive people into sharing their data and charge them unwanted charges. The damages are divided: 275 million for the Federal Trade Commission of the United States and 245 million for those affected. But… what are the “dark patterns”?
The so-called dark patterns are a deceptive design philosophy that consists of creating interfaces made to confuse and deceive the user. The term was coined by the designer Harry Brignul in 2010, who also has a site that classifies these practices. For example, a window that says “I accept these terms” but refers to another program; this is called “Disguising”. Or the “Privacy Zuckering,” referring to Mark Zuckerberg, whose products have a long history of featuring nice wording to mask the fact that they’re selling your private information without your consent. Perhaps the most popular dark pattern is the so-called “cockroach hotel”, in which it is extremely easy to subscribe to some service, but almost impossible to get out of it.
In the case of Epic Games, the practice refers, of course, to its super hit Fortnite . According to the Federal Trade Commission or FTC for its acronym in English: ” Fortnite ‘s counter-intuitive, inconsistent and confusing configuration of buttons (of the interface) caused players to incur unwanted charges for pressing a single button. For example, players could accept charges by attempting to wake up from rest mode, when the game was in a loading screen, or by pressing a button while previewing an item These tactics led to unauthorized charges of hundreds of millions of dollars for the consumers”.
I mean, basically, Epic Games was using unclear interfaces to get people to accept cashouts of all kinds. Furthermore, it appears that the company proposed by default an invasive privacy setting that allowed users to be tracked. The problem is that most of the Fortnite players are minors, which constitutes a crime, since no one under 13 can share her information without the explicit consent of her parents. Apparently, Epic’s own employees had already expressed their concern about this sensitive issue, but to date, no change had been implemented.
Apparently, more than a million users complained about these charging practices and deception, but Epic ignored all their complaints. In addition, the company “purposely darkened” the cancellation and refund systems, to make it more difficult to avoid these unwanted purchases. As for the lawsuit, Epic Games essentially agreed to the charges, stating that they wanted to be “in the forefront of consumer protection,” stating that it was merely a matter of clarity of information, and promising that they would implement in the future a menu that asks yes or no for all charges, and change your privacy settings to protect minors. But… is it enough?
As consumers, what can we learn from this case? Although Epic Games had an exemplary punishment, it must be said that 500 million out of an average of 4 billion a year is nothing. The real consequence will have to be in the mindset of consumers. First of all, think twice before sharing your bank details with any company; try to progressively abandon the fixed confirmation numbers and try to use dynamic PIN in your operations. Likewise, it reviews very well the wording of all the collection mechanisms; In case you have children, review all their privacy settings and of course do not give them direct access to your billing data in their accounts. It seems paranoid, but Epic and other companies have shown that it’s not just that they care about your money, but they also want to get it out using all kinds of psychological tricks, tricks to which minors are very vulnerable. All in all, this is a good day for consumers, and let’s hope it’s a lesson well learned for Epic Games as well.