Spyware in TurboTax, Adware in QuickBooks?
Updated - 2/4/2003
Intuit has released a TurboTax Product Activation FAQ, in which they state that "no personal information is collected or transmitted to Intuit." To this extent, the version of C-Dilla bundled with TurboTax does not meet our definition of spyware. In addition, if you would like to uninstall C-Dilla from your computer, Intuit offers a uninstaller. For an excellent update to the story, have a look at ExtremeTech's Open Letter to Intuit, Re: TurboTax DRM.
Everyone pretty much agreed that it was bad when you went to download "free" software and it secretly installed other programs on your computer. However, it would seem to be the ultimate insult to pay for a piece of accounting software and find your computer infected with spyware and adware. Intuit has hurled just such an insult at its customers.
Spyware is software which, once installed on your computer, reports information back to a centralized sever using the Internet. Often times, this software is used to monitor what you do and the places you go on the Internet. Adware, on the other hand, is software that displays advertisements on your computer. Often times, adware works in conjunction with spyware to display "personalized" ads.
Intuit has integrated a well known piece of spyware into its popular TurboTax software. The spyware is Macrovision SafeCast, which used to go by the much maligned name C-Dilla. Companies have written virus checking utilities to remove C-Dilla from infected computers. Now, Intuit makes C-Dilla a mandatory part of the TurboTax install.
Intuit claims that the C-Dilla spyware is used to prevent people pirating TurboTax. In this way, it functions much like product activation technology built into Microsoft's Windows XP. Nevertheless, the vocal backlash has been vicious and even visible in the customer reviews at Amazon.com. Many people are even recommending tax software from competing companies such as H&R Block's TaxCut and 2nd Story Software's TaxAct.
Anyone who has installed Intuit's latest version of QuickBooks knows that they've taken precious screen real estate and devoted it to the displaying of banner ads. So, while your small business accountant is trying to juggle 5 different customer accounts, 18 different totals, and input several invoices, they have to do so with ads flashing on their computer screen. This has provoked a similar backlash from customers in places like Cnet's reviews.
Many people have noted that Intuit has as much of a strangle hold on the personal and small business financial market as Microsoft has on operating systems and productivity software. In fact, since Intuit has got your financial data locked in the deep catacombs of their software, it can be argued that they have even more control than Microsoft.
Intuit flexes its muscles in many ways, not the least of which is the planned obsolescence of their software. In other words, unlike a word processing program like Microsoft Word, which can be used for an indeterminate amount of time, Intuit software is only useful for a short period of time. They accomplish this by preventing customers from updating their software with newer tax tables, without which the software is useless.
Customers have entrusted some of their most valuable information to Intuit software. Intuit has tread upon that trust, abusing it for cheap advertising dollars and through their failure to disclose information about the spyware bundled with their software. Perhaps it really is time for Intuit customers to look at software from competing companies.