TurboTax Deliberately Hides Its Free File Page From Search Engines

Despite the fact that lower income Americans are eligible to file their federal tax returns for free using TurboTax, Intuit attempts to obfuscate this feature from search engines.

via propublica:

This week, we reported on how 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.

There’s a new wrinkle: It turns out, Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, is deliberately hiding the truly free edition — TurboTax Free File — from Google Search.

Intuit has done that by adding code on its site telling Google and other search engines not to list TurboTax Free File in search results.

“It’s deliberately saying: ‘Google, we don’t want you here. Do not bring us traffic,’” said Jared Spool, a veteran web design and user experience expert.

The code in question, which can be found in a file called robots.txt or in an HTML tag, has to be actively added to a site, as Intuit has done. It is typically used on pages that designers want to hide from the open internet, such as those that are for internal use only. Without that code, Google and other search engines default to adding a site to their search results.

“Robots.txt is a big ‘No, don’t go any further’ sign on the web,” Spool said.

The code on TurboTax’s Free File site says “noindex,nofollow” — instructions for it not to show up in search results.

In contrast, the TurboTax page that puts many users on track to pay signals to Google that it should be listed in search results.

Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement that he plans to raise Intuit’s misleading marketing with the IRS. “Intuit’s tactics to reduce access to the Free File program and confuse taxpayers are outrageous,” he said.

Here’s the page for TurboTax’s Free File edition.

And here’s the code Intuit put in hiding it. (Special thanks to Larissa Williams on Twitter and Arkadiy Kulev on Reddit for pointing out the code.)

And here’s the main TurboTax.com page, which, despite the “FREE Guaranteed” language, puts many users on track to pay.

It instructs Google and other search engines to “index,follow.”

 

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