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#144 Dark Pattern


This week, we discover an invisible maze, designed to trick millions of people out of their money.

Justin Elliot’s Twitter

Pro Publica’s questionnaire for people who’ve worked at Intuit

Intuit CEO’s video response

Find a Free File tax product on the IRS site

Pro Publica’s reporting on Turbo Tax

Here’s How TurboTax Just Tricked You Into Paying to File Your Taxes

TurboTax Deliberately Hid Its Free File Page From Search Engines

TurboTax and H&R Block Saw Free Tax Filing as a Threat — and Gutted It

Elizabeth Warren and Other Senators Call for Refunds and Investigations of TurboTax and H&R Block

Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This episode is brought to you by better for him a new podcast from eighty people. In each episode Francesca Ramsay talks to visionaries in business leaders about mistakes. They ve made how they work their way through them and came out better for listen on Spotify or wherever you get. Your pot casts this episode is brought to you by a Sana. A saga is an app designed to help teams, plan, organise and execute all the work they do together. It helps you make sure nothing falls through the cracks, so you can focus on the work that matters most learn more and try us honour for free visit, assign dot com to get started. That's a ass, a dot com. From gamma reply I am he gave up so my absolute poverty vision of our time is prank show
Nathan for you. My name is Nathan, feel there and I graduated from one of Canada's talk business schools with really good grades. So Nathan claims to be this brilliant business consulted, but really, single time. He shows up to help you as you, they're, just comedic, absurd, completely morally bankrupt. So my favorite episode is Our station episode station then tell the owner of this gas asian that he's gonna get him way more business and the way they going to do it. Set for one day only gas is going to be one hundred and seventy five about twenty five with a rebate, a rebate that has to be hand delivered to a box an extremely remote location about an hour and a half drive from survive gas in the middle of the Angeles National Forest. The peak of Mount Chalais always only accessible by four. There are die hard to actually take him up on this and what they learn. They get there. Is it even then, to find the relay box there? You have to solve a series of rebels resting for a million years, but I
Her sleep, kind of music, but out here I do not make a peep. Wind wins Why is it? Is it when it is not wind rock? Yes, right. Ok, all right! So the next riddle is under Iraq, its multiple day camping trip. They sleep intense overnight and the end they all Home without having got their fifteen bucks back, I think the reason keep going back to the show is because I feel it distills down to its purest form. The thing that you into so often in the real world. Just these unsolvable Horrible maze of capitalism were friendly, smiling people trick you out here my lately how can this reporter? Who has actually uncovered one of these measures in real life, but the maize he found? Who just so much he dropped so many more people. I know like now.
Quantifiable member, but like how many people do you think have fallen for this without rising, there's like something to fall for so we are trying to figure out tat number it's almost certainly in the hundreds of thousands, are probably millions. So that's just Anne Elliot he's reporter pro public and for the past several months he's invest getting into that coming. To makes turbo tax I just I talk to him every when I ran into a friend strangers people the doctor's office, ask the same questions: did you use turbotax, to file your taxes and, if so, was it free or did you pay money Pretty much everyone paid money, I was, none of them should have they had made him forget the maize they fell into I I was completely invisible to them. It exists because of this very weird deal that the government made with private industry sixteen years ago. The kind of deal that is very hard to imagine having anywhere else, but in America seriously
We need to go back to this press conference back in two thousand during the Bush air of a marked form, and I must social director, for I t any government at the offs management and he's here with some very big news for you, as taxpayers, Americans are finally going people too easily file their taxes. The computer I'm very excited about the launch of the free file website. It's really the embodiment of twenty four presidential. You government initiatives that were released its Iris, exciting, not railway, exciting, but this is actually a big deal. When I took my job eighteen months ago, virtually every other major country in the world had the ability for citizens to go online and freely file their taxes easily file their taxes. We didn't up until then, most? U S tax
He had been either filing their taxes by mail or over the phone. Now we were finally catching up, basically every other major country in the world, except in those other countries. What happened with their governments just built their own file, your taxes for free websites, the IRA did not think we could pull that off. They thought I was getting too expensive and they feel like we're too far behind already, and so here is what they decided to do. Instead They went to seventeen different companies, Companies are already making online tax filing service and they told them you guys are going to do this. Arrogance, will not filer tags online directly to the higher ass? They will fail them through you, for the vast majority of American? To do that? You can provide this sign services completely for free and the coming. To do this is attacked industry lobbyists at that same press conference today, for the first time more than sixty percent of all. U S, taxpayers will be. Well to for free program.
Air and file their taxes on line. We are particularly very proud of the cover of so many low and moderate income Americans by this programme. Back then the bottom sixty per of your start, fires were eligible today is how should the bottom seventy percent people who make fifty six thousand dollars a year. Alas, the pitch for this reform programme was basically that this was the kind of best kind of public private. Internship industry was just going to offer free tax filing to a lot of people at no cost to the government. So what could go wrong, and so why would why would private companies be really excited to jump in and offer something free? So that's a good question. So The principal reason that this free file deal with the IRA's his has been so valuable to the industry is that it contains this non compete clause. It contains a promise by the IRS that the Irish
never create their own system that would essentially computers or tax or potentially put Termer tax at a business. So the IRA's has made this very valuable, extremely strange promise to the industry. They were going to compete with them. They would not build their own website. In return. The industry has also made a very valuable and equally strange promise these for profit companies agreed to offer their services for three to the lion's share of their potential customers. So what's the deal done? the companies one about the next step. Everybody pigs, which customers they are going to not make money off of some companies take attitude. Melody Carrie under seniors, there's a bunch of categories, and then they go about building them. Free tax filing products in the years that followed virus keeps its promise. It never build its own website. Tax companies, something very surprising happened with one particular tax company over the years to come.
Grew and grew. They made more and more and more money offered a situation that had seen designed to stop them from profiting that company isn't too into its Silicon Valley company. Let's get it, I believe their headquarters amount view like right next to Google got it found in the nineteen eighties. Actually, as personal computers were rising the founder of the sky. Scott Cook had idea to create accounting software for personal computers, so they may quick box near they lay asleep Quicken, yes got it, that's a business. They start in that still a big part of their business. Man, I believe in the early nineties they acquired a company that may attack software, and that became what is now turbo tax term attacks has made tons of money for into roughly two billion dollars in revenue last year. Scott Cook is now billion air, his adult children are equestrians they're out. There lie there like day job is that they just our Equestriennes
over the job there hobby. I am not sure if they work actual. There. You know if they ve done very well when they were saying induce offers really get, like everyone. I know who doesn't use an accountant or other parents to their taxes, uses it it's easy. Pretty gets better year after year. However, that is not what is creative fortune for an elusive billinger and his equestrian children, because remember the service is supposed to be free from most Americans. So how did into it make money off afraid? Did you offer the free taxation? I think that the deal so they had to their virgin services active duty, military making under sixty six rand, as all civilians who make thirty four thousand dollars a year. Alas, that's a group of free customers, they ended up well, but they ve taken that product and its hidden it at the end of it. Is there no way people like a mountain or answers riddles, but they made it said it is almost impossible to find. It starts just with how the thing is named. It actually has to names.
To protect free file which, for some reason they have also branded as term protects freedom they're the same now two rejects revile interpret Ex freedom. Are the exact same thing just and shouted to me? Ok, so this is it. This is. The actual free file website is IKEA, exactly which is virtually identical to the normal turbulence. It face, is light blue background. There said there's a cheerful up. Our guy who sang lethargic Brazil info will gather some basic Andrew about you and people right and this. If I use this programme, it would really really actually let me follow my taxes for free Right, you could follow this through the end and lungs you made under the income cap. This would surely be free, so that's the website that into it because of their agreement with the government has to offer, however, there's no rules banning them from coming up with their own extremely similarly named product that any real
whole person would confuse with free file, and that is Turbo tax free, which is the product that the company is thrown huge advertising dollars. Add they have adds where who, literally all the actors in different situations are to say the word free over and over again only most famous one. This year was like a kid at a spelling bee casually. Yes, I certainly the pride their advertising is that the free version is indeed depends it literally, just as nine B, where they only say the word free, I notice, but during taxis and to protect spent hours. Two million dollars on tv s land. This run things about this year, free free, Free That's right over tax free is free, free, free, free free, as like five billion of and suddenly I suddenly the pride their advertising is that the free version, its idiot depend. If you're feeling and right now, don't worry as absolutely the point
Everything you're right here from here on out, is incredibly convoluted. It has been designed that way, because this is a story about people making money by being convoluted on purpose is hidden notches, nothin, but a team of journalists are probably get it by whistleblowers with into it. Months and handle was going on here. Ok, wait centres, free Wilder's freedom and there's free free right turn. Ex free vile entered Ex free, different products, very different products of well the the softwares virtually identical, but whether it's free or not, is very different. Even they pray in their name, you know they all have like, though the letters F are you in there,
they have created this taxonomy of the word free. That makes it virtually impossible to talk or write about in a clear way they ve been very challenging to write about is like how do you use the word free? I term tax free file, such turbid ice freedom, does the ones that, if your eligible to use them, they're, always written terror tax free? Despite what other add say, is only free under very specific circumstances, it's free, if you have what into it, causes simple tax forms like if you turn ingested, Debbie too. That simple here are people whose taxes, according to into it, are not simple, freelancers anybody filing forest for students, owns mortgage interest. Childcare costs basely most people require any kind of second form. Will learn that their taxes are not simple, which means and up paying somewhere between sixty and two hundred bucks for their free taxpayer and justice website designed to push you indeterminate, actually, whether he should be there are not imagine
yourself in you know, people tenth go her tax. I come out for the first time, as is free, guaranteed zero dollars, federal zero dollars, state zero dollars to file easily and accurately file your simple tax returns free on caps, see why it's free and then they're right? There's a picture like a smiling woman holding looks like she got like a three thousand one hundred dollars refund, which I've never gotten She hasn't new Ipad that its is is this way she super happy right, so reaches hunting there. If I click see why it's rates, as is terror, attacks relation really free yes, we guarantee you'll pay, nothing devalued, simple, federal and fate taxes. Word, simples a lot of work there right. So if you have other forms term attacks
will tell you at the end of the process where you ve gone through after clicking free that actually you have to pay for term attacks the locks or to protect premier in order to file when they did at once. You're done they do it towards the very idea. Meanwhile term tax free file, the one that is income based, one, it doesn't care. How calmly your forms are. There is no mention of it on the homepage. Even you scroll the way to the bottom. There's a hot see, there's a whole list of products if it says, like term attacks, radiation, Gilaks premier, southern played military tax, RAP Alteratives live products live basically blood by former life self employers like succeed things on their windows. Notable exception of term tax, free file, so just honesty in view of the time what is find this thing using Google? We decided to play it of somebody is even more of a tax nerd who normally knows about IRS free file,
but actually literally knows the brand name of the turbo tax free file addition witches turnover, tax, free, dumb, yes, sir, we google term attacks freedom right and almost the entire page when Google S, is a series of ads and the top one is turbo tax, free file, programme rights or, like ok, great, were in luck,
finally, we like found this sort of holy grail. They thought they found the holy GRAIL, but what Google actually take them too, was not really the territory FAO website. It was like a trick door in front of the free vow website, so there's two buttons on this page: there's an orange button and a blue button, and can you re what they said? Yes to the Orange button says see if you qualify, yeah and the blue button says Start Fray rights, which would you click out. Every sort of re also discusses the blue, but exactly so, and also it gets even more interesting. If you look at the little text above it start for free text, says like will find the perfect product for you, where you can tell me, I'm so sorry, for you
as we are here to help you get your taxes done right, starting with the perfect turret ice product for you and then the Sea view Harvey is like two thousand teen territory: five, her and provocations you're. In thirty four thousand hours or less adjusted Garrison Committee, I or accurately military into an eighteen with age, icy, six thousand or less or if you have ever the urn income credit YE. I say rights are just pausing an effort. Second, the these see, if you qualify button, is thrown around terms like, but just grossing again. No normal person knows it that is, or you can click the nice blue button, which, so has a smiling mother with her child on our shoulders. Next denies blue button, which are the word free on it. So it turns out that if you click the Blue free button, That is actually another offer amp to the not the free file but the free edition in which, depending on your forms, you're gonna have to pay
Oh my god. Oh my god. It's just like they're sure it's not it's. Fine recovery is trying to trick you, but there should be like one safe road yeah, after the break. How did you try to get your money back. Buyers business cards. In a week later I had a business and in each hour, rule breaker, whose learned why we all care about work in the first place,
better, for it looks at how mistakes have shaped the lives and careers of visionaries and business leaders and helps them think differently about what their working forty you'll hear from an entrepreneur who ventured out on his, and so I went out. I took seven hundred dollars. I had in the bank, but my own pickup truck, took some flyers business cards in a week later I had a business and H our role breaker, whose learned why we all care about work in the first place. You wanted to proud of the work that you do. You want to be able to tell your friends about. You ought to be able to feel like you're, making a difference. You'll hear how they work their way through their mistakes and came out better for listen on Spotify or wherever you get your pockets. This episode is brought to you by a sauna extra this world we spend less time juggling email meetings and status updates and more time doing the work that matters. The most your team, that's the one.
The sun was built to create a saga, is an app designed to help teams plan, organise and execute all the work they do together its built to give teams Clare, so you can all understand your goals and how to achieve them together and whatever your next project is a sonnet can help reduce the busy work that waste your time from small companies to global enterprises. More than a million teams across a hundred and ninety five countries get work done with Sata. Learn more try us for free visit, assign a dot com to get started. That's a s day. Dot com. So often judges and skulduggery that into it uses to push people away from free file turn paying the money. Just hold me, there's a term for all that it had a dark pattern. Whether you riser, not you have probably ran to a bunch of these
it when you use a website or piece of software is designed through all sorts of sneaky ways to lead you to a choice that you probably don't wanna make make unsubscribe buttons hidden. Four point: great fun: that's a dark pattern actually get you to actually pay for a monthly subscription by bringing the ok button, where your finger expects find a cancel button dark pattern, but the dark patterns swirling around her tax are much more diabolical like theirs as well. Thing. Just configure up here found this one way to get to the terminal free vouchsafed internet. There is a direct Three on Irish, that guy battling to it. But you understand why can just get the terror attacks? Revolves aid directly from Google, no matter what Google to tax free file edition were taxed freedom, Termer Tags IRA, free file, the actual turbo tax free file edition, was never appear, never ha like not on the first page, not on the fifth pitch, so we're like what is going on there. So,
after we publish one of early stories some. S YO experts on the internet flagged for us that term attacks in two. It had actually added code to deter tax free file website, tell Google not to show that page ever dastardly robots attacks. Things were. But TAT, which says, like you put it on a website? Really, Google done index s. Yes, one of the things that we struggled to us about this fighting the free file page from Google was that it really clearly speaks to attack right, this is not a passive thing like well. We put you know have a certain number of advertising dollars and we are putting the mostly towards the free edition of the free file addition this, is literally something that you have to actively add its dot. The default yesterday,
buddy at into it actively put code on the page saying, don't appear on Google, if Justin's right and into was hiding the Freefall programme on purpose. It seems to have worked, remember seventy. Percent of Americans are eligible for this in two thousand five soon after the programme was launched, five point: one million people try to at last year the number of sound around two point: seven million and doesn't, as he's talk to people work into it Saddam contacted them because their so disturbed about how things are run. One Listen taught him a story about this meeting. They gone to wear You saw had made a suggestion we know that, once turbo tax knew their customers income level they just put upon open for them that, rather than to the freefall software just that person got left the room like the prisoners shows up at the carnival and suggest fixing the car machines that people and grabbed the toys more easily. You know it would undermine the entire business model. Does a very lucrative business, so
the CEO made, like twelve million dollars, lies here and now as before, he was even see. I think the ceo made twenty twenty million, my God, but also its a crazy has, even if they were like ok we're only responsible for helping Burma. He like less than thirty four thousand yeah, there's still tons of people to take a profit offered yeah. But when you look at the we don't know these sort of income distribution of into its customers, but we do know that abuse tradition of the country and so turns out something like a quarter of the country. It makes under thirty four thousand dollars. So if all those people started really using the free file product, it would a race a huge shrug, if not all, of their profits. Thank you for calling tear my tax, your car, maybe my and recorded after just answer publishing you stories. Always readers are calling turbo taxing Gimme my money back. This college.
Courted last month by Guy in Virginia who made about sixteen grand last year, I'm calling Roquat the Red and on the very day that I hate bore, but I should have been able to do to free the file directed to the pre addition perturb attack on my back. Give me a moment for about it It worked. I was good a whole series of very great, Come you're allowed to file for free. You would have to use that product. Ok, that's what I use, but because and I'm finding out improve public article now that you that tobacco intentionally making those very difficult to find or you more service, Swat team was actually called the pro public. A team. Oh my flattering: yak, this new customer service raw team there very, very good and not giving people refunds
and it means we had one tactic, so more confusion. We are going capped, pull up a screen, Cherub Cave of Freedom Edition is through dire, ass free hollow. If through is that true, Not really ok, but it gets worse so that I can. I can tell you that through us, it is forms that are needed here with IRA is income based? So we are not able to grant your reef on back and point out your forms to you on what forms might a bump you into a higher product that Mama and if any, for free, the pile of you made a under a certain level of income that it brought him again but your agreement with the IRA that, under them
I will then come you're allowed to file for free. You would have used that product. Ok, that's what I intended to use, but because I am finding out improve public articles now that you that pterodactyle country making very difficult to find or you we are not making them difficult coding literally to say that it not gonna show up in part engine, and I guarantee right down public aside tat yeah. I really did yeah they're, not gonna, be honest about that stuff, because we have no power over Google or anything like that is up to the IRA on how they want to advertise that if they want to advocate the at all, do I think that this agent is intentionally lying or confused. I do, I think, probably I think, actually decision just confused, but
who's not isolated, and we heard from like at least twenty people who were told by agents that proposal was fake news, but that the core theme the agents getting wrong here. Is it he keeps talking about the eye arrests running terminal, ex free file? We ask which is not true. It's very far from the truth, that is the sort of an irony there, because in two it has lobby, for years to make sure that government has nothing to do with tax filing into it. Make anyone available for an interview with us for this peace. There's motion did when email that they have gotten rid of the confusing freedom. Brandname free file is just Humphrey now. You didn't answer any questions or other search practices, but since just in series came out, is now possible to find tat free file using Google. Ultimately, though, I've made some changes becoming believes that they ve done nothing
I want you to know that I take these challenges personally, and I know you do too, and I want you to hear our story directly. For me, this is this on generating he's the sea of into it he's addressing the company in an internal video rebutting programme because reporting over there just 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 come just said he reach out to into it for clarification, what they meant by free like really free or used free service prepaid, something for it. He hasn't back anyway as he says, everything the company did, that doesn't have risen to confuse people was actually meant to help them. He says thing pages from Google is something businesses do all the time. Having pages not rank is standard internet practice, and especially our full in this instance, where our primary goal is to get people the right product through
educational content. If you're, like the real reasons, there is just that he s a rally into its nine thousand employees. Legs people have just been told that their business is immoral and he tells them the real enemy here is pro public on each of these articles have been written and publishing. Context of a specific wider political agenda that Gender is to create a centralized government system of pre filled. Tax returns, what are you saying, especially the unsaid argument at the centre of this whole free file, public private strange arrangement arrangement that lasted almost two decades, woody is that you cannot trust the government to handle your taxes, they're gonna, screw it up for review off it'll, never work as hard argued that because you never tried it, but when just sorry tweeting out links to articles about this here from an unexpected audience, international readers, who are true,
and I'm saying things like. I fundamentally do: understand the problem. You're writing about I've heard from people from other countries who are literally can fuse by the idea of like what does it even and do your taxes and also pay money or that's confusing in Australia. We- and you know it takes like ten seconds, and I kind of thing we're fine. Idea. Just like I don't know what that is. Ok, I'm looking at the tree there now so, like Japan employs onto filed file tax return. Uk, of our times. My employer is required to this very monthly, only one source of income, Australia, diametrically almost entirely prepared you about a garment Netherlands, five or ten minutes something from Slovenia deleted your tweets. I know, what's going on the Philippines employed as it for me, South Africa only to some stray populated might go it's free twenty minutes, but yeah. It's not just the fancy countries that always deserve better than us towards a year. We have playstation fives in our prisons. Nobody does
it's everywhere right. In theory, we could build a similar system yeah. The agreements as Iris is not to do it, but that agreement comes up for every few years. We just this, to be more like Sweden or Mexico. We ve been the call to those countries don't have which that every year into it makes more honey, and it gives a more money to spend lobbying to ensure that lawmakers keep the agreement the way it is in fact this year they want a step. Further in April the language insert into this bill called the taxpayer First ACT. It may be arrangement permanent got the iris isn't non compete put into. Build our last week, the House pass the taxpayer First ACT of twenty nineteen by partisan support it hasn't provision that would make it illegal for the IRS to launch it. So free online tax filing system, the bill pass the Democratic House when the Republican Senate were everybody knew what was going to happen next resident.
This is a bipartisan, build that passed with broad support in the house, probably what they have the same effect in the Senate and tramples I, of course, but that's not what happened. What happened was that the pro public histories came out. People got mad and descended to dissing. Nobody expected they rewrote they took out the part permanently banning Iris for making their own software resupply said happen Yes, actually, because usually journalism has no effect So yeah we we were surprised, but basically all that means is that it's just sort of status quo ante, like the islamic ending the programme or anything it just not putting it into law, so we're in this place where, on the one hand, at any moment, virus could decide screw. This agreement were own website. On the other hand, if you like that will never happen and so we live in the status quo next spring
also down. If I lower taxes and will take info, given that, in most cases the urban already has how much money are It makes because we don't trust the government. We all take that, formation and give it to a private company instead the charges money in an old turn it over to the government, who already has it weird, it might not make a lot of sense, but where Africans, and for now that is the system we decided on just now. It is rapporteur for propaganda let's into into it, has been done on inside a team. Lucas Waldron talk here, Congo said to me, the Tobin, an egg Marco, if you liked it, dr reviled, there's a link to it on her shone out and just Does anyone else into it? Here's this and wants to talk to him. His email is Justin
publicly dot. Org requires hosted by me Peter of out and out Roman shows respect. We keep him in any the abandoned damietta Mark, Hetty Anatoly just a young and manual judges are addressed. Him hours were mixed by recline thatching this week by Michel, Errors are in turn, is Emily Rasta special thanks to treat your bank men marked foreman, broad Bass and Jeff copper. Our theme, song is very mysterious. Break master cylinder matters There is an early morning by using torture on site, If I or whether you get your part casts thanks. Releasing was he in two weeks
Transcript generated on 2020-02-13.