Friday, May 3, 2019 [Tweets] [Favorites]

TurboTax Dark Patterns and Robots Exclusion

Justin Elliott and Lucas Waldron (Hacker News):

Intuit and other tax software companies have spent millions lobbying to make sure that the IRS doesn’t offer its own tax preparation and filing service. In exchange, the companies have entered into an agreement with the IRS to offer a “Free File” product to most Americans — but good luck finding it.

[…]

We took a close look at the source code of the TurboTax website and noticed something strange. Even though we clicked on the “FREE Guaranteed” option and met all the requirements to file for free, the company had tagged us as a potential paying customer.

[…]

Even though TurboTax could tell we were eligible to file for free, the company never told us about the truly free version.

It turns out that if you start the process from TurboTax.com, it’s impossible to find the truly free version. The company itself admits this.

Justin Elliott (tweet):

There’s a new wrinkle: It turns out, Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, is deliberately hiding the truly free edition — TurboTax Free File — from Google Search.

[…]

The code in question, which can be found in a file called robots.txt or in an HTML tag, has to be actively added to a site, as Intuit has done. It is typically used on pages that designers want to hide from the open internet, such as those that are for internal use only. Without that code, Google and other search engines default to adding a site to their search results.

Nick Heer (tweet):

TaxSlayer, 1040.com, and Free Tax USA also request that search engines do not index their free filing webpages.

Justin Elliott:

NEW - statement from TurboTax / Intuit:

“we are undertaking a thorough review of our search practices to ensure we are achieving our goal of increasing eligible taxpayers’ awareness of the IRS Free File Program and its availability.”

Previously:

Update (2019-05-10): Justin Elliott and Meg Marco (Hacker News):

The makers of TurboTax have long been luring customers into paying for a service that they promised the government they’d give away for free. Now they’re lying to customers to avoid giving refunds.

We’ve heard from 16 people who say they were denied refunds and told that the truly free version — Free File — is a government product that’s not run by TurboTax. Ten others reported being told that ProPublica’s stories were inaccurate, or that our coverage is “fake news” or “fictitious.”

Update (2019-05-31): Justin Elliott and Kengo Tsutsumi (tweet):

To find TurboTax’s Free File landing page, service members typically have to go through the IRS website. TurboTax Military, by contrast, is promoted on the company’s home page and elsewhere. Starting through the Military landing page directs many users to paid products even when they are eligible to get the same service for no cost using the Free File edition.

1 Comment

Pure rent seeking. You'd think both sides would crack down on it but too many politicians like money.

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