Saturday, January 23, 2010

Consent for my own software to look at my data???

Here in the US (and I presume elsewhere) the annual rite of passage of doing one's taxes is upon use yet again. Once you've done something crazy like getting married, having kids or buying a house, the whole process gets more and more complicated as you try to minimize the amount of taxes you owe Uncle Sam.

I've always done my own taxes and for the past 10 or 15 years, I've used Intuit's Turbo Tax software to do so. I still can't bring myself to do the taxes online -- I can't help feeling that there's just something wrong about not keeping that data in house.

Anyway, yesterday I installed TurboTax to start working on my 2009 taxes (yeah, I'm a bit early, but I like to do it piecemeal as I receive tax reports and have spare cycles here and there).

Following the installation, I was prompted with the following consent screen:

If you look carefully, essentially the screen is asking if you give consent to release data to Intuit so that they can figure out whether they should offer you extra paid tax preparation services (paid out of your return) and/or a chance for you to get some portion of your return on a debit card. So they want to use the information on your return to market additional services to you.

What isn't clear to me from the disclosure is: are you actually giving the information to Intuit (in other words, is it being transferred to an Intuit server off-system) or is the consent is about the software that you've purchased and installed on your computer looking at the data locally.

If the former, then I think that they should explicitly say that the data is being transferred to an Intuit server as that isn't clear in the disclosure.

If the latter, why the heck is that necessary. It's my software that I purchased and it's keeping the data locally on my system. Intuit never sees the data unless I specifically send it to them for one reason or another. If this is really required by law, how does that match up with the "instant refund" or "refund anticipation loans" offered by the likes of H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt? Do they have to get you to sign a similar consent form before they can "notice" that you're getting a loan and offer to give it to you instantly (at great cost to you, of course)?

Even if it is the crazy latter situation, the consent should clearly state that the data is not leaving the system, that it is only being used by the software I just installed.

In any case, I did not consent to any data release... I'll wait for my money to show up when it shows up (assuming I even get a refund, which isn't always the case).

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