Congressional report condemns tax prep companies for sending data to Meta, Google

The alleged culprits include TaxSlayer, H&R Block and TaxAct.

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A Congressional investigation concluded that several tax prep providers shared sensitive filing data with Meta and Google. It follows a 2022 report from The Markup highlighting the practice in which TaxSlayer, H&R Block and TaxAct used Meta’s Pixel tracking tool to harvest info like filing status, approximate adjusted gross income, refund amount, names of dependents and which text-entry fields users clicked on. Meta is already facing a lawsuit connected with the initial reporting.

The panel sent the conclusions to the IRS, FTC, DOJ and Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGA), urging the agencies to investigate and prosecute if applicable. “Big Tax Prep has recklessly shared tens of millions of taxpayers’ sensitive personal and financial data with Meta for years, without appropriately disclosing this data usage or protecting the data, and without appropriate taxpayer consent,” the report reads. “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 review found the Meta Pixel tracker also gathered data about “whether taxpayers had visited pages for many revealing tax situations, such as having dependents, certain types of income (such as rental income or capital gains), and certain tax credits or deductions.” In addition, it transmitted the full names, email, country, state, city, zip codes, phone numbers and gender as hashed values. The information was also collected from taxpayers using TaxAct’s Free File service — which is through a partnership with the IRS.

Congressional investigators listed in the report include Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA).

“The tax prep firms were shockingly careless with their treatment of taxpayer data,” the investigation concluded. “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 panel also chided Meta and Google for acting “with stunning disregard for taxpayer privacy.”

The report cites laws that say, “a tax return preparer may not disclose or use a taxpayer’s tax return information prior to obtaining a written consent from the taxpayer,” while mentioning that the tax prep companies failed to do that. Although tax-filing companies can legally hand data to “auxiliary service providers in connection with the preparation of a tax return,” the panel said Meta and Google don’t meet that definition since the tracking was used for advertising. Violations can lead to fines of up to $1,000 per instance (likely pocket change for these companies) and up to a year in prison.