A new report indicates that private financial information used in filing taxes online has made its way to Facebook.
It said Americans who used tax filing services such as TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxAct, Ramsey Solutions and TaxSlayer might have been affected to some degree, as each tax filing service collected data differently.
According to The Markup, a bit of code called the Meta Pixel shared information that could include income, refund amounts, college scholarship amounts and the use of health savings accounts.
The report said the information was sent to Facebook regardless of whether users had an account on Facebook or any other social media platform operated by Facebook’s parent, Meta.
“This is appalling,” said Mandi Matlock, a Harvard Law School lecturer who specializes in tax law. “It truly is.”
She said the report shows that Americans are “providing some of the most sensitive information that they own, and it’s being exploited.”
Americans file nearly 150 million individual tax returns electronically each year, and some of the most widely used e-filing programs use the Meta Pixel, according to The Markup.
For example, it said, the information Tax Act sent to Facebook included users’ filing status, their adjusted gross income and the amount of their refund, as well as names of dependents. H&R Block, the report said, shared information on health savings accounts and the college costs of any dependants.
The code helps Facebook by providing more data for its algorithms and helps businesses that advertise on Facebook target ads to people who might be interested in a given product or service.
“The practice is ubiquitous,” Jon Callas, director of public interest technology at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Markup, adding that the report left him in “shock but not surprise.”
The report sent ripples through the companies that provide the service.
“H&R Block has removed the pixels from its DIY online product to stop any client tax information from being collected,” H&R Block told Fox News in a statement.
Ramsey Solutions, which uses TaxSlayer’s service, said it had done the same.
“We did NOT know and were never notified that personal tax information was being collected by Facebook from the Pixel,” the company said in a statement, according to The Markup. “As soon as we found out, we immediately informed TaxSlayer to deactivate the Pixel from Ramsey SmartTax.”
Meanwhile, TaxSlayer spokeswoman Molly Richardson said in an email to the outlet that the company had removed the Pixel to evaluate its use.
Intuit, the company behind the popular TurboTax service, did not send financial information to Facebook via Meta Pixel but did share user names, the report said.
“Intuit does not share tax return information with social media platforms, including Meta (Facebook), for marketing or any other purpose. The Meta Pixel does not track, gather, or share information that users enter in TurboTax while filing their taxes. Intuit’s use of Meta Pixel is compliant with Section 7216,” a company representative told Fox News.
“We take the privacy of our customers’ data very seriously,” Nicole Coburn, a spokeswoman for TaxAct, told The Markup, which said that after its report was published, the company stopped sending financial details to Meta. However, it continues to send dependents’ names.
Meta said it does not want information it should not have.
“Advertisers should not send sensitive information about people through our Business Tools,” a Meta representative said, according to CNBC. “Doing so is against our policies and we educate advertisers on properly setting up Business tools to prevent this from occurring.
“Our system is designed to filter out potentially sensitive data it is able to detect.”
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