Tax day might have already come and gone, but that doesn’t mean ProPublica is done highlighting the questionable tactics of TurboTax’s parent company, Intuit. According to a new report, Intuit purposefully stopped Google from surfacing its free tax filing service in search results in an effort to steer all consumers — no matter their income — toward the company’s paid services. Intuit added code to the robots.txt file on its website that instructed Google to leave TurboTax Free File out of search results.
The Free File service came about as part of an agreement between the IRS and tax software companies, including Intuit and H&R Block. The last thing these businesses want is for the IRS to create a free, government-run e-filing process, so to prevent that from happening, they’ve committed to providing a free tier of service. But clearly, they don’t want that route to have the same SEO as the filing services that are bringing in huge revenues.
Both companies advertise their mainstream consumer tax filing products as free, but users almost always end up having to pay at the end of filing their federal and state taxes if they use the standard service. The Free File option, meanwhile, is legitimately free for those who qualify. ProPublica found that H&R Block similarly prevented Google from including its own truly free service in search results
A bill making its way through Congress would permanently handcuff the IRS and keep it from building out a TurboTax alternative. The Taxpayer First Act calls for the private tax industry to continue on with the Free File program, but if they’re being this dodgy about making the free tier easily accessible now, things might only get worse if the bill is signed.
“Steering eligible taxpayers away from filing for free or blocking the Free File page from search results violates the spirit of the agreement and calls into serious question the justification for the program,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a co-sponsor of the bill, told ProPublica.