Getting Worse Part 2: Intuit's CEO Informs Employees That Free To File Was Hidden For The Public's Own Good

from the pro-public-uh... dept

Like we said, Intuit apparently wants to keep digging this hole for itself. After our initial coverage of ProPublica’s excellent posts on how Intuit was going to crazy lengths to keep anyone from finding its free to file tax prep site, we followed up with reports of how many Intuit reps were lying to keep from giving people refunds. Those lies included claims that Intuit and TurboTax don’t even run the free to file program and that it was instead operated by the IRS itself with TurboTax branding. Another lie was that ProPublica’s reporting was all wrong and that the news organization was about to run a retraction. Spoiler alert: no they are not.

But it seems that the Intuit brass aren’t content only to lie to the public. Intuit’s CEO managed to cobble together an internal video — which of course leaked — so that he could lie to his own staff as well.

Sasan Goodarzi, the CEO of Intuit, says the company’s efforts to make its free tax-filing software harder to find on Google were part of the software giant’s commitment to educating taxpayers. In an 11-minute video sent to Intuit employees, Goodarzi said the company was trying to help consumers by steering them to “educational content” instead of TurboTax’s free filing website.

Responding to our reporting, which shows that Intuit, H&R Block and other for-profit tax software companies were steering low-income customers to their paid products, Goodarzi said the company’s marketing practices “had been misinterpreted to signal that we were trying to hide the product we offer in the IRS program. That is inaccurate.”

That’s nonsense. Intuit’s decision to combine buying Google ads and de-indexing the free to file site via robot.txt file has only one reasonable motivation: to hide the free option and push people to the paid services. It’s also clear from the result of these actions, which is that 3% of taxpayers eligible to file for free did so, with 97% instead paying for services they didn’t need. That’s a whole lot of “educating” going on, all of which happens to result in gobs of money for Intuit.

We’ll put the entire video at the bottom of the post for your enjoyment, but there are a couple of sections we should highlight in text.

“Over the past five years, tens of millions of consumers filed their taxes for free using one of our free offerings. That is more than every tax prep company combined.”

If there are any hard statistics to back this statement up, Goodarzi doesn’t offer them. Neither did Intuit’s PR folks when ProPublica asked for them. The end result, whatever the actual hard numbers, is that 3% of eligible taxpayers used the free to file program. That number ain’t great.

We created a holistic marketing approach including widely used search techniques to differentiate between our own free products and the one we offer through the Free File program. Knowledge is power and we wanted to equip taxpayers with the information they need to make an informed choice and more easily find the product they were looking for. As you know we advertise a lot. We’ve all seen them: “free free free.” Because we advertise so much, our experience and our common sense tells us that the majority of people doing internet searches for the words “TurboTax free tax preparation” are looking for TurboTax free product. Not the one we offer through the IRS Free File program.

This takes a lot of stones. Suggesting that the average person searches the internet for “TurboTax free tax preparation” looking for not free tax prep by TurboTax takes the kind of full on blatant lying typically reserved for current American Presidents. And keep in mind that these poorly-spun lies are being told to internal Intuit employees. Why anyone would want to listen to this and continue to work there is beyond me.

And, amazingly, despite this vociferous defense of Intuit’s practices, the video culminates with Goodarzi stating that the company has ceased hiding the free to file site due to all of this “fake news” reporting.

Our choice around search was intended to be in the best interest of taxpayers so they were more fully informed about their options and could choose what they felt was best for them. But given the misinterpretation of our well intended actions, we decided to remove the limitations we put in place.

I doubt, frankly, that this will be enough to keep away the current lawsuits and the many, many more that I imagine are in the midst of being drafted. This has class action lawsuit written all over it.

And the more Intuit continues digging this hole, the worse it will get.

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Companies: intuit

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Comments on “Getting Worse Part 2: Intuit's CEO Informs Employees That Free To File Was Hidden For The Public's Own Good”

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aerinai (profile) says:

Lawyers get Rich, and Intuit is still Richer

Unfortunately, even after a class action, they will still have made more off this scheme than they will pay out, and the taxpayers still won’t have a free option provided by the IRS. This is still a win-win for Intuit. What hit they take in PR will have been lost by tax time next year, so even public shaming isn’t even a good motivator for these crooks.

This is unfortunately just the ‘cost of doing business’ to them. Their gamble got found out and they lose a few pennies.

I use TaxAct and while its price has risen sharply over the last couple years, it is still a better option than Intuit

Anonymous Coward says:

This is probably super obvious, but with the recent string of tech company employees protesting their mega-corp’s bad behavior, It looks like intuit is trying to smother the embers before they can become a fire. I don’t assume to have anything but an average, normal level of morality, but if I was an employee for Intuit, their actions here would have pissed me off. I’d be doing my best to get out.

Also; interesting how they went with a video instead of the usual E-mail. Maybe they thought the video was less likely to leak?.

Anonymous Coward says:

par for course

I used to work for Intuit at a location that was eventually shutdown.
Prior to closing the site, we were told repeatedly that the site would remain open. Up to and including the day we were told on site that it would be closed.

From what I could tell, no one admitted that the site was closing to the on site employee’s until all of the employee’s who were to be laid off were informed and signed their paperwork… … I guess that the higher up brass felt that the site was ‘planned to remain open’ until all those employee’s were dealt with… then they grouped up the rest and said, move or take severance since this since is now closed.

So, just par for course for Intuit

bob says:

what was I searching for again

Because we advertise so much, our experience and our common sense tells us that the majority of people doing internet searches for the words “TurboTax free tax preparation” are looking for TurboTax free product. Not the one we offer through the IRS Free File program

So TurboTax is just trying to redirect search results for those of us that dont really know what we are looking for.
Is that why every time I do a search for thief, liar, and/or pompous windbag I get pictures of Sasan Goodarzi?

Anonymous Coward says:

For free file, please proceed to page 5

It’s a shame that the tax prep providers that actually do provide free federal returns are ‘hidden’ in search results. I’ve recommended TaxHawk to a few people, and they don’t trust it, as being far down in search results is not a good sign of trustworthiness generally. I was skeptical myself when I went on the hunt a few years back when getting the run-around from the big players for a truly free file option.

That said, they all upsell aggressively…

Anonymous Coward says:

found free to file. What they did then was keep hammering me with "you’re gonna leave money on the table unless you pay" message. I looked into it. I started my entire return over twice. Then payed them because they acted like I was an idiot for not taking the money I would be giving up if I didn’t pay. Well, I got no more money , and my return was lighter for having "payed’ them. Shitty company, my ten year relationship with them is at an end.

no-one (profile) says:

same here

I waited until the 14th to file my taxes, like I do every year. When I searched Google for Turbo Tax free, every link listed failed to take me to their free product. Since I can add, subtract, and read, I just changed my search to and searched for tax forms. I then spent 30 minutes filling them in and then flagged down a mailman who was happy to accept my stamped envelope.

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