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Friday, March 6, 2015

None of Your Damn Business

Some businesses are getting a bit too nosey lately. Take Toys “R” Us and Intuit (maker of TurboTax and Quicken software), for example. The way these two businesses have invaded my privacy this week is downright creepy.

I returned a purchase of a $4 item to Toys “R” Us and the woman at the Return Desk insisted on seeing my identification. She wasn't asking for the credit card I had used to charge the purchase; no, she wanted to see my driver’s license. “Why do you need to see my driver’s license to return a $4 item? Isn't the receipt enough?” I asked. “Store policy,” she replied, as if that catchall phrase justified the invasion of my privacy. I flipped open my wallet and showed it to her. That didn't satisfy her. With the attitude of the power drunk TSA agent, she insisted I take it out of the plastic and hand it to her.

“I don’t want to be placed on any mailing lists,” I told her, as she set my driver’s license atop her terminal. “You won’t be,” she assured me, as I watched her fingers type my name, address, and ZIP Code into her computer. I glanced at the screen and saw my name and address, as they appeared on my driver’s license, now on the computer screen. “I need your phone number, also,” she insisted. “No, you don’t,” I replied. “As I said, I don’t want to be on your mailing list.”  “Oh, we don’t do that sir, but I still need your phone number.” “Why do you need my phone number?” I asked. “Store policy,” she replied.

Now, it takes a lot of chutzpah to stand in front of me and lie to my face. When I was a kid, we had a saying: Don’t piss in my face and tell me it’s raining. That’s adding insult to injury. So I won’t be shopping at Toys “R” Us again, and I advise you not to, either.

At least Intuit doesn't tell you it’s raining. In fact, Intuit doesn't tell you anything at all. After you install its personal or business TurboTax software, the program spies on you and reports back to Intuit. Specifically, Intuit wants to know:
1. The date you installed TurboTax.
2. Your computer information, for example: computer model, amount of memory, hard disk space and screen resolution, versions of the operating system and its components. Also, as required by the IRS for fraud protection purposes, we will collect and send to the IRS the serial no and UUID from your machine. We do not collect or share your user ID, password, files, documents or list of other programs that you might have.
3. When and how you checked for TurboTax updates.
4. When you started on your tax return.
5. When and in which order you completed Personal Info, Federal Taxes, State Taxes and Review sections of your tax return. Note that we will not collect what you actually typed in.
6. Whether you printed or electronically filed (efile) your return.

Something else Intuit doesn't tell you is that you can choose not to allow it to collect this information by checking the default check mark, under the Privacy tab, in the Help section of the software program (in the basement of City Hall along with plans to demolish Arthur Dent’s house). Now you know.

Intuit was already in hot water for downgrading features of its TurboTax software without informing its users. Customers who purchased TurboTax Deluxe paid the same price they had the previous year but discovered certain forms (for example, those for stock transactions) were no longer included in the Deluxe version and that they would have to upgrade to the Premier version at an additional cost. Meanwhile, customers who paid $159 for Intuit’s top-of-the-line business tax software may have been surprised to find they would have to pay extra for their state tax preparation, or that it generated Form 1099-Div for recipients but not for the IRS. Intuit did manage to beat out Comcast for Worst Customer Service Experience, a remarkable feat: I spent two hours and 35 minutes on hold with Intuit before my cell phone battery died. But I digress. So I won’t be buying TurboTax again, and I advise you not to, either.

Speaking of Comcast, why do they ask for my Social Security number every time I call to report a cable outage? In this age of massive identity theft, does the cable company phone operator really need to know my Social Security number to get my TV working? The point is, the biggest Fortune 500 corporations in America have instructed their peons working at their lowest level – i.e., the ones who have interaction with us, the customers – to collect and store on their databases our personal information that is not relevant to our interaction with them. They’re just being nosey, and quite frankly, it’s none of their damn business.

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