The Apple vs. Epic Games lawsuit has revealed the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has investigated Epic Games’ handling of children’s personal data.
GamesIndustry.biz reports that when asked about the security of customer information, Thomas Ko (Epic Games’ head of business and strategy for online services), explained a different division handled it, but as a stakeholder he would be (in GamesIndustry’s words) “aware of such problems.”
Ko was asked by Apple’s laywer if Epic Games ever had issues with information on customers under the age of 13 being improperly collected or used. When Ko said he did not recall, Apple’s lawyer asked for clarity. “You don’t recall if you’ve heard about that or not?”
“I was part of the attorney privileged team that are handling requests from the FTC,” Ko explained, “but that was it.” Apple’s lawyer stated to the judge he had further questions. However, the lawyer recommended those questions be asked during a sealed session; not open to the public.
The FTC enforces the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). While the law demands online services obtain parental consent before collecting a child’s personal information (and limiting the scope of what is collected), the law was criticized for also bringing harsher terms on YouTube.
The law forced YouTube users to categorize all past and future content as “kid appropriate” or not. This is made worse by content in the “kid appropriate” content being less profitable, that YouTube can override the decision based on various factors, that YouTubers can be fined up to $42,000 per offending video, and that the YouTube Kids app already existed.
Nonetheless Google reportedly paid $170 million USD in civil penalty, settling allegations of COPPA violations that YouTube had committed. Other gaming and technology companies who settled COPPA charges over the past decade reportedly include Miniclip, HyperBeard, TikTok, RockYou, and TinyCo.
While asking for further questions to be asked behind closed doors can sound concerning, it may be that an FTC investigation is ongoing (prompted in some manner or a “check up” on a business that handles children’s data), was settled, or concluded and dealt with (guilty or not).
Both the FTC and Epic Games representatives declined to comment to GamesIndustry.biz; with Epic Games referring them to Ko’s aforementioned testimony. It is worth noting disclosing information about ongoing government investigations (potentially hindering their work), is usually frowned upon, along with matters that the FTC and Epic Games may deem settled and not of public interest. This may explain the evasiveness of Ko, Epic Games, and the FTC; even if nothing has been or was proven.
The FTC are not the only ones interested in how Epic Games handles their data. Tencent risk losing their investments in US companies such as Epic Games and Riot Games, as they are reportedly negotiating with a US national security panel. Tencent owns has a 40% of Epic Games’ shares, and outright owns Riot Games.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) are reportedly examining if the personal data Epic Games and Rito Games handle would be a national security risk. If true, the information gathered by the FTC and the ongoing Apple vs. Epic Games case may contribute to their final decision.
Image: Epic Games