[Plura-list] SCOTUS to wrongfully accused terrorists: "drop dead"; Intuit sabotages the Child Tax Credit

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Tue Jun 29 10:06:45 EDT 2021

Today's links

* SCOTUS to wrongfully accused terrorists: "drop dead": Kavanaugh finds
new ways to be wrong.

* Intuit sabotages the Child Tax Credit: Bad web-design is a choice.

* This day in history: 2001, 2006, 2011, 2016, 2020

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current
writing projects, current reading


🎾 SCOTUS to wrongfully accused terrorists: "drop dead"

When people call the US Supreme Court "corporate-friendly," it's often
hard to know what that means in concrete terms. But here's an example of
what it means when the highest court in the land is in the tank for big

Transunion is a giant credit reporting bureau. These companies have
their origin in a company called "Retail Credit" (now Equifax). RC paid
people to spy on their neighbors and kept secret files on who was a
"race mixer," a homosexual, or a political radical.

These files were sold to employers, financial institutions and landlords
to help them discriminate against people for their political, sexual or
racial views.


Today, these companies continue to maintain massive, nonconsensual,
wildly inaccurate databases detailing your finances, your employment,
your living arrangements, your run-ins with the criminal justice system
and more.

These are sold - again, without your consent - to lenders, employers,
landlords, and other entities, who use them to make decisions that
affect where you live and work, whether you can adopt, and more.

These companies have been in the news continuously for half a decade,
thanks to a series of high-profile, unimaginably massive breaches that
compromised the security of virtually every adult in the US and millions


Transunion's secret files on you include a tickbox for "suspected
terrorist." Transunion wrongly accused 8,000 people of being terrorists.
It discovered its error and violated its statutory duty to inform the
people it had wronged.

The Supremes just ruled that those wronged people aren't allowed to sue
Transunion for accusing them of being terrorists and making that
judgment available to its customers, including government agencies,
employers and landlords.


Specifically, the court said that only the 1,800 people whose wrongful
accusation was transmitted to third parties could sue Transunion. It
likened the untransmitted accusations to "a letter in a drawer that is
never sent."

Writing for the majority, Kavanaugh failed to grapple with the
collection, analysis and use of private data, which - per EFF's Cindy
Cohn - is "an opaque archipelago of databases are linked and used to
build and deploy machine learning systems that judge and limit us."

As Cohn points out, Kavanaugh explicitly ignored Congress's intention in
passing the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which followed from the ghastly
scandals that prompted Retail Credit to hide under its new "Equifax" name.

The whole point of the act is to allow the public to seek justice when
credit reporting bureaux are reckless in their dossier-compiling.

Transunion was reckless: "it marked people as potential terrorists
simply because they shared the same name as people on a terrorist watch
list without checking middle names, birthdays, addresses, or other
information that TransUnion itself undoubtedly already had."

This decision is a boon to any company seeking to block litigation over
privacy breaches, who will cite it in a bid to force the people they
victimize to prove not just that the company leaked their data, but also
that someone hurt them using that leak.

This is the standard that Google and Facebook cynically advocated in
their amicus briefs, and while the court explicitly recognized that
privacy breaches can create "intangible harms," that doesn't mean that
corporate lawyers won't try to stretch this ruling.


🎾 Intuit sabotages the Child Tax Credit

The Child Tax Credit is a seriously good piece of policy, in which
America's poorest families are eligible for $2-3k/year in subsidies, a
move projected to cut American child poverty in half.

There's one problem: the IRS has no idea how to reach America's poorest

Many of the people eligible for CTC don't file tax returns and even if
they did, they'd have no contact with the IRS, because the tax-prep
monopoly killed all attempts to create a "free file" system where the
IRS sends you a prefilled return with the info they already have.

When I say "sabotaged," I'm not speaking hyperbolically. The tax-prep
industry, led by Intuit, led the fight for 20 years, with their cultlike
leader Brad Smith at the forefront of a bribery and intimidation campaign.


Intuit worked with its co-monopolists to develop a private sector "free
file" program that was supposed to offer free tax-prep services to the
poorest Americans, but it was a con.

The company developed a sophisticated dark-patterns storefront to trick
Americans into paying for the service they promised to provide for free.
Free file was supposed to cover half of Americans, but only 3% figured
out how to use it.


Free file predated upon poor people, but it especially targeted people
with disabilities, students and retirees.


Eventually, thanks to Propublica's dogged reporting, the IRS ended its
noncompete agreement with Intuit.


But the IRS has been starved for decades by anti-tax extremists and is
seemingly dependent on predatory monopolists - think of how, in the wake
of the Equifax breach, the IRS awarded its $7.5m, no-bid antifraud
contract...to Equifax.


The IRS said it *had* to give its security contract to the company that
had just demonstrated an unimaginably terrible capacity for screwing up
security because no other company was able to provide anti-fraud
services, and the IRS didn't have that capacity itself.

Just as with Intuit, the IRS eventually had to break with Equifax
because its behavior became absolutely untenable - in the case of
Equifax, the company started serving malware from its fraud-prevention
site (no, really).

But despite its dishonor, Equifax remains cozy with the IRS - as does
Intuit, never mind the fact that the FTC is investigating it for its
fraudulent, predatory behavior.

Intuit is the company the IRS tapped to build the CTC enrolment website.

It is a *very* bad website.


The site's failings are detailed in a Michelle Singletary story for the
Washington Post.


Start with that URL: "freefilefillableforms.com" is not a subdomain of
irs.gov. It's not even a .gov site. Even before the page loads, it
sounds like a phishing site.

But once you load it, hoo-*boy* does it look like a phishing site.
There's *nothing* to indicate that you're on an official IRS website.

The site doesn't work on mobile devices. Guess what kind of device a
person poor enough to qualify for the CTC is most likely to own?

The site is English only; there's *no* Spanish version. Guess what
linguistic group is disproportionately represented among people poor
enough to qualify for the CTC?

The site doesn't work with screen-readers, excluding people with visual

The site welcomes you with a giant, unreadable wall of garbage-legalese
warnings and a giant CAUTION box.

Intuit is perfectly capable of making usable websites - but more
importantly, they are *criminally* capable of making *unusable*
websites. They are infamous for it.

If Intuit wanted to make a CTC enrolment website that ensured that the
parents of children living in poverty could find and use it, they could.
Moreover, when Intuit builds websites that deprives people of the
service they're entitled to, it's deliberate.

To prove how good Intuit is at being bad, Matt Bruenig of the People's
Policy Project worked with designers to build an alternative CTC site.
It took two days. It's welcoming, it's bilingual, and it was built by a
crowdfunded think-tank.


It works on mobile, too (of course). As Bruenig writes, "it's not
designed to look like a phishing website, is simple and inviting, and
replaces the complicated set of eligibility rules with question prompts."

Alas, all it can do is funnel users into Intuit's terrible site.

I have done web-design for large government clients. I understand that
there are constraints that can reduce the quality of the final product.
But Intuit isn't your average IRS contractor - they're a company that
was caught bribing, intimidating and poaching IRS employees.

Specifically, they bribed, intimidated and poached IRS employees to turn
a blind eye to the company's deliberately terrible web design, which was
in service to denying poor people access to financial services they were
entitled to.

Bond's Law applies here: "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence.
Three times is enemy action." This isn't incompetence, it's deadly
competence - a skilful act of sabotage that will doom millions of
children to continued poverty.


🎾 This day in history

#20yrsago Andrew Leonard on the Microsoft antitrust appeal

#20yrsago Lessig, O'Reilly, Moglen, ESR and Jamie Love on the Microsoft
antitrust appeal

#15yrsago Vernor Vinge on computers, freedom and privacy

#10yrsago Copyright troll’s biggest fan commits terminal irony

#10yrsago Publishing in the Internet era: connecting audiences and works

#10yrsago Why writers should have their own domains

#5yrsago How to Break Open the Web: a report on the first Decentralized
Web Summit

#5yrsago The Perdition Score: Sandman Slim vs the One Percent

#5yrsago Rules for undercover cops, UK edition

#5yrsago Californians will get to vote on legal recreational weed

#1yrago Facebook and Trump collaborate on rule-rigging

#1yrago How to break up Google

#1yrago Female Furies


🎾 Colophon

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/).

Currently writing:

* Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests.
Yesterday's progress: 275 words (7331 words total).

* A Little Brother short story about remote invigilation.  PLANNING

* A nonfiction book about excessive buyer-power in the arts, co-written
with Rebecca Giblin, "The Shakedown."  FINAL EDITS

* A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause."  FINISHED

* A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues."  FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Inside The Clock Tower

Upcoming appearances:

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Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone
technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political
cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution
and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a
(print edition:
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introduction by Edward Snowden:
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copy here:

Upcoming books:

* The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics,
Beacon Press 2022

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