Sunday, May 12, 2019

ProPublica Targets TurboTax

Yesterday I commented on a ProPublica article about income tax filing. Today I comment on another ProPublica article related to the first.

ProPublica says TurboTax Deliberately Hid Its Free File Page From Search Engines.

Its subtitle is: "The makers of TurboTax as well as H&R Block promised the IRS to offer free filing for many Americans. But they have kept Google from seeing it."

ProPublica alleged:
(1) TurboTax uses deceptive design and misleading advertising to trick lower-income Americans into paying to file their taxes, even though they are eligible to do it for free.
(2) Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, is deliberately hiding the truly free edition — TurboTax Free File — from Google Search.

I allege deceptive reporting by ProPublica. Since Google search results have been modified recently (per the April 28 update in the article), I cannot replicate the earlier situation. However, doing two different searches with Google now is a good indicator of the earlier situation. Minutes ago I did two searches:

Search #1: free file TurboTax
Top search result: TurboTax Free File Program, Part of IRS freefile

Search #2: IRS free file TurboTax
Top search result: IRS freefile site

I suspect the earlier situation was:

Search #1: free file TurboTax
Top search result: TurboTax Free Edition, which is not Part of IRS freefile

Search #2: same as above

Note the different Search #1 top search results, earlier versus later. Apparently ProPublica alleged the earlier top search result was deceptive trickery, since it is not an IRS site (it's a TurboTax site) and somebody might need to pay Intuit some money to be able to file. So I ask the reader, does a searcher not being directed to an IRS site when "IRS" is not included in the search criteria constitute "deliberate, deceptive hiding" by TurboTax? I don't, but it seems ProPublica does!

Of course, I don't know what paths actual filers took to the TurboTax Free Edition and tried to file with it but eventually used a pay version of  TurboTax to file. The paths probably varied a lot. But I believe my search criteria and the earlier Search #1 path are very plausible. I doubt that ProPublica has any better idea about what paths actual filers took either.

Anyway, in ProPublica's narrative, it is never the taxpayer's failure to find the no-pay path, but always TurboTax's deliberate deception and fraud.

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