Dark Patterns and Monopoly

I’ve recently taken to reading Matt Stoller’s BIG newsletter, and given my recent forays into figuring out things for my businesses, I’ve been thinking a lot about how QuickBooks has become less and less effective and more and more confusing. I keep seeing descriptions of it as being the “industry standard”, but despite having used it for about five years now, it’s not gotten any more user friendly for my purposes. If anything, it’s actually gotten worse.

While thinking about how QuickBooks holds something of a monopoly in the accounting space, I also found myself thinking about Intuit, the parent company of QuickBooks and TurboTax. ProPublica has done some extensive reporting on Intuit’s lobbying efforts to prevent the IRS from allowing citizens to file their tax returns for free, with efforts to not only prevent the IRS from developing that software, but also by using deliberate design and search-based tactics to ultimately force users to pay for the service when it should remain free. I first encountered this reporting from an episode of Reply All last summer.

What’s notable from my own experience is that despite using two distinct versions of QuickBooks (the Simple Start Online for one, and the Self-Employed for the other), I’ve found that the supposed integration of the Self-Employed version with the Self-Employed TurboTax to be largely unreliable, meaning that the supposed benefit of simply hitting “send to TurboTax” for a Schedule C has never really worked for me.

What does monopoly positioning have to do with this? I’ve stuck with QuickBooks as long as I have in part because I thought it was the only option for me. I selected it in part because it was supposed to integrate so well with TurboTax. As with so many other giant corporations in today’s landscape, the only way to vote is with my dollars (and perhaps some thoughtful reasoning on the Internet, should others find themselves asking similar questions), and it’s time my dollars found better use in more ethical companies.