Brendon Powell

hanson nanjiani spills the beans on the predatory practices of turbo tax and their free file taxes system

Free File Taxes & TurboTax’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad 2020 Grift

The June 28th episode of Patriot Act with Hanson Nanjiani had me begging the question: Why Is Doing Taxes Is So Hard? But more than that, the episode touched on some of my own experiences in Product Management. Someone is responsible for the amalgamation of unholy product design tactics that is TurboTax’s Free File Taxes system. It’s goal is to funnel customers away from and into their paid services, and TurboTax accomplishes this by using frowned upon development methodologies.

As a consumer I’m both disgusted and appalled, but as a product manager for several mobile applications, I’m not shocked. It’s clear that middle management officers and ethical standards do not always walk hand-in-hand.

Something something mandatory Ethics Training programs are not designed for anyone holding power.

So, Who Speaks for the Consumer?

A key responsibility of the product manager is to optimize revenue streams for any given product. We all get that there’s a business at stake here, it needs to generate income. It’s also important to keep the needs and wants of the customer at the forefront of decisions that will impact the business. But what TurboTax has done is more akin to replacing the human decision making process with that of machine learning or an AI whose only KPI was to increase click-through-rates.

That’s a Bold Free File Taxes Claim, Cotton

Indeed. How else can we justify the morally reprehensible decision to move the Free Tax Filing portion of TurboTax’s website onto a domain that is not indexed by search engines (eg. unsearchable on Google)? A soulless, ethically devoid *beep* *boop* computer algorithm made the decision must have made the decision, and not a team of empathetic product development experts. Because, ya know, who could put that on their resume? It’s like trying to put Duke Nukem Forever as a core part of your experience creating top quality games. What company could possibly want someone with those kinds of credentials? Equifax? Comcast? EA? The Galactic Empire? Facebook?

Oh, dear… it appears that a willingness to sellout one’s own customers for profit maximization is a celebrated aspect.


Where Do We Go From Here?

There isn’t one single solution that will fix what has become known as Late-Stage Capitalism. A good place to start would be unionization among all American workers in all businesses across America. Employees having more say in a business’ direction ought to bring unethical solutions back to the center. It’s basically the same as being more active in one’s local community.

The general strike is a fundamental negotiation tactic that America has abandoned and it shows. An individual has very little power to negotiate, and this is the simple reason why corporations fight our ability to unionize at every turn. Having a united worker’s front in America would certainly go a long way towards equality and in bridging the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor.

It’s crazy that an open discussion of unions makes me feel uncomfortable. I suppose that’s the intended impact of corporate propaganda and apologists. I sincerely believe the American Dream exists, but in apathy and complacency we have allowed our values to become eroded and perverted. It will take many more empathetic Americans to become active in order to right these wrongs.

Hopefully we unite over common sense, and soon.

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