Insomnia Log

This is what keeps me awake at night???

Who needs sleep? (well you’re never gonna get it)
Who needs sleep? (tell me what’s that for)
Who needs sleep? (be happy with what you’re getting,
There’s a guy who’s been awake since the second world war)

-- words and music by Steven Page & Ed Robertson

Location: Boulder, Colorado, United States

Everything you need to know about me can be found in my posts

Saturday, January 05, 2008

It's Debatable

Mr. Bob Meighan of Intuit has challenged me on the facts of It's Deductible, so I thought I should state what has transpired over the past two years very clearly here for anybody who cares. Then you can judge whether I'm being unreasonable or whether Intuit is engaging in unfair business practices.

My wife and I have been loyal customers of Intuit for over a decade. Our Quicken records go back to at least 1996, and I have a copy of the manual (remember when software publishers included manuals for their products) for Quicken version 2. We just upgraded to the latest release of the most expensive version of Quicken. According to my Quicken records, I first purchased TurboTax in 1997 (for tax year 1996). I've purchased at least one product from them every year since, usually the "Deluxe" or "Premier" version. I've convinced more than one friend to switch to doing their own taxes using TurboTax, rather than paying an accountant.

I'm sure that our family is exactly the type of customer that Intuit wants to court. We take charge of our own finances. When they came out with It's Deductible, we bought it, one of the first years it was available (2003). We always bought the desktop versions of all the products. One, it gave us control over our data, and, two, online software just didn't provide the same user experience.

In 2006, Intuit changed the way they marketed their tax product line. They eliminated the product rebates, which effectively raised the price. But they included more things. One of the things they included was It's Deductible. I no longer have the product packaging, but according to (where TurboTax 2005 is still available), TurboTax Premier 2005 with State (the product we bought) "now includes ItsDeductible software to help you accurately value donated items (for a bigger deduction!)."

When we received the disk, however, It's Deductible was not on the CD. After querying Intuit, we found out that what they meant was that we could use It's Deductible Online. If we wanted It's Deductible Desktop, we would have to pay extra.

That was misleading promise #1.

Rather than falling for the bait and switch, we decided to give ID Online a try. So, for the rest of 2006, we entered our donation information into the product. Indeed, the online version wasn't as good as the desktop version, but it was usable.

So, 2007 came around, and we continued to log our donations online. Then we purchased TurboTax Home and Business 2006. Again it was marketed as coming with It's Deductible: "Includes ItsDeductible software to help you accurately value items donated to charity." The TurboTax box did not say what Mr. Meighan said in his comment: "TurboTax 2006 provided a free copy of ItsDeductible Desktop (that was included on the TurboTax CD) for use with the 2006 TurboTax software. Its use was for tracking AND valuing your 2006 contributions. That was the offer."

Go back and read that again. The tax product we bought in 2007 came with software for tracking our 2006 charitable contributions. That's nothing short of idiotic. 2006 had come and gone, and any tracking that was going to happen had already happened. We were already using ID Online and in any case weren't going to support Intuit's bait and switch by switching to the desktop version.

But then we went to do our 2006 taxes. And TurboTax would not / could not import the data from It's Deductible that we had spent 12 months entering. In fact, we had no way of going into ID and even seeing the data so we could enter it by hand into TurboTax. At some point, they had surreptitiously removed any display of valuations from any displays. Nothing we had ever seen or agreed to had ever prepared us for the fact that Intuit now claimed ownership of the valuation data and would not provide it to us except via TurboTax Online. We were floored. Obviously, Intuit was doing everything they could to get people off the desktop versions of their product, and customer expectations had nothing to do with it.

Selling us ID as a bundle with TurboTax and not telling us that the data produced was not compatible or even available to that application was misleading promise #2.

Obviously, we were not the only ones so affected. TurboTax had posted instructions on their support site for a workaround. This workaround involved starting a free tax return using the online version of TurboTax, loading the It's Deductible data into it, and them manually copying the data into the desktop version.

So, in summary, Intuit had made a bad mistake, but they had provided customers with a workaround. Plus, they fixed TurboTax the next year so that it would be able to read data from the online version of ID. A bit reactive rather than planning their products, but at least they were responding. They've been there before, one year with reports that they included spyware as part of TurboTax, another year with reports that many people couldn't install without disabling their firewalls. But I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Which brings us to the present day. We've been using It's Deductible for another year. I'm thinking about doing our taxes. But now, our tax situation has become complicated enough that we can't use TurboTax. TurboTax is apparently the only way to unlock our donation data. And this time no workaround has been offered.

So, to summarize: We felt screwed by Intuit last year, but I was willing to forgive them, since they provided a workaround and since I understand how hard it is to release a new complex consumer product every year on a tight, non-flexible schedule. However, now I feel like Intuit is abusing their position of power. Nothing in any It's Deductible document I've ever seen has or agreement I've ever made has said that I have to use the next year's version of TurboTax to extract the data. No, implicit in the providing of a product to value donations is the promise to actually provide that data.

In a comment a couple days ago, I suggested that Intuit's actions might be a violation of federal antitrust law. In fact, I'm not an attorney, but look at the facts. I am being forced to buy a second product in order to enjoy the benefits of the first product I bought. In fact, this is worse than the standard tying or bundling. Customers who buy the first product don't know they have to buy the second product until they have invested a full year in the first product, and the information that went into that product is irretrievable. Who remembers what that sweater looked like that they donated eight months ago, or could even guess what it might be worth after that amount of time had passed?

I'm not asking for much. I just want the information that Intuit has promised me. And I don't want to have to shell out money on a product I can't use just to get it.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out It helps me manage my donation activity, especially finding fair market values, AND is a stand-alone service web-based service. Very straight forward - purchase the membership, enter the organizations and donations, print a report. Done. No hidden products to buy or tricks up their sleeve like you're talking about here.

Tue Oct 07, 12:22:00 AM  

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