Tax Sites Shared Sensitive Data With Tech Companies, Lawmakers Say

Popular online tax preparation services shared “millions” of users' sensitive information with Meta, Google, and other tech companies according to a new report released this week by Democratic lawmakers.

The report focuses on tools such as the Meta Pixel and Google Analytics that tax preparation services including TaxAct, TaxSlayer and H&R Block install on their sites.

“In addition to taxpayers' filing status, approximate AGI (adjusted gross income), approximate refund amount, and names of dependents, the Pixel collected approximately federal tax owed and buttons that were clicked and names of text-engry forms that the taxpayer navigated to,” the report states.

Meta confirmed that it used the data for ad targeting and to train artificial intelligence algorithms, according to the report.

A company spokesperson said Wednesday that Meta's policies prohibit advertisers from sending sensitive information through tools like the Meta Pixel.

“We educate advertisers on properly setting up business tools to prevent this from occurring,” the spokesperson says. “Our system is designed to filter out potentially sensitive data it is able to detect.”

A Google spokesperson says the company has “strict policies and technical features that prohibit Google Analytics customers from collecting data that could be used to identify an individual,” and doesn't allow advertising to people based on sensitive information.

The report was issued by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois), Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), along with Representative Katie Porter (D-California). They began investigating the tax preparation companies after The Markup reported last year that Meta's tracking code was on several tax services' sites. (After The Markup contacted some of the companies, they reportedly revised their practices: TaxAct stopped sending financial information to Meta, while TaxSlayer removed the pixel from their filing sites.)

The study released this week says that the analytics tools enabled Meta to collect more information than was previously reported.

Warren and the other lawmakers also called on the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission and Treasury Department, to investigate the alleged data transfers.

“The findings of this report reveal a shocking breach of taxpayer privacy by tax prep companies and by Big Tech firms that appeared to violate taxpayers’ rights and may have violated taxpayer privacy law,” the lawmakers say in a letter to the agencies.

“The tax prep firms were shockingly careless with their treatment of taxpayer data. They indicated that they installed the Meta and Google tools on their websites without fully understanding the extent to which they would send taxpayer data to these tech firms, without consulting with independent compliance or privacy experts, and without full knowledge of Meta’s use of and disposition of the data,” the letter continues. “ The Big Tech firms also appeared to act with stunning disregard for taxpayer privacy -- failing to provide full and complete information about how they would collect taxpayer data, and what they did -- or are doing -- with it once it was collected.”

Meta is currently facing a class-action complaint in federal court in San Francisco over the alleged data transfers.

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