Monopoly Moves

Gilad Edelman, writing at Wired, makes a compelling case that Intuit’s intention to buy Credit Karma is less about owning a competitor and more about getting access to the significant amount of user data said competitor has collected over the years. Here again, we are seeing very clearly the cost of “free” (emphasis mine):

While those people don’t pay to use Credit Karma, they do turn over their financial information, as well as the kinds of behavioral and location data that other companies, like Facebook and Google, track. The platform’s algorithms then help lenders microtarget users with offers for credit cards, loans, and other financial products. Credit Karma gets a cut when users sign up.

Intuit makes it clear that they want to know users’ “complete financial identity”, and couches it as a way to offer “the best loan and insurance products for them.” It makes me sad to know that my steady use of Quickbooks over the last few years, even as small an amount as it is in the grand scheme, has helped fund this sort of behavior. I’ve noticed a conintued dark pattern in which indivdiauls, and especially small business owners, are scared into thinking that they can’t keep their own books via the tried-and-true spreadsheet. Even when we’re paying for a service so that a company shouldn’t have to sell personal data, the quest for constant growth in this land of extreme capitalism is too much, it seems, to handle.

In January, I was musing about how Quickbooks had largely stagnated, and was citing long-standard features (and I mean years-long standard features) of its own product as a reason to justify a sudden 47% price increase. I wasn’t thinking it then, but I’m definitely thinking it now: this is a monopolist’s move. It doesn’t matter whether your product or service is any good if you’re the biggest, and nearly only, game in town.