If you use some of the most popular tax prep software on the market, Facebook likely has your personal financial information, according to a startling report.
Major tax filing services like H&R Block, TaxAct and TaxSlayer have sent customers’ financial information to the social media site, nonprofit news site The Markup reported.
The data includes not only names and email addresses but also information about the users’ income, filing status, refund amounts and dependents’ college scholarship amounts, the report said, adding that even if the customer is not on Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp, parent company Meta can use the data to program its advertising algorithms.
The report said that some of the most widely used electronic tax filing systems use code called the Meta Pixel to scrap the data. About 150 million tax returns are e-filed with the IRS each year.
Among the filing services are TaxAct, which processes about three million returns. The Markup said that TaxAct sends similar financial data, but not names, to Google through its Google analytics tool.
H&R Block handled about 6.7 million DIY online filings, along with 11.5 million filings prepared by its workers and another million through IRS Free File, a free service for lower income taxpayers. The largest tax prep company in the country, H&R Block embedded a pixel on its site that gathered information on customers’ health savings accounts and dependent’s college tuition grants and expenses, The Markup reported.
Another popular site, TaxSlayer, sent personal information to Facebook as part of the “advanced matching system,” which gathers information on web users to try to link them to Facebook accounts, the story said. The company processed about 10 million returns last year.
The report said smaller tax prep sites, like Ramsey SmartTax, also included these pixels in their code, sometimes gathering even more information from their customers to share.
Even Intuit, which owns TurboTax, the most popular online tax filing software in the country, uses the pixel at sign-in, though the report said it did not deploy the pixel to share financial information.
One company, Ramsey Solutions, which offers Ramsey SmartTax through TaxSlayer, said that it implemented the Meta Pixel to deliver a more personalized customer experience,” but claimed it “did not know and were never notified that personal tax information was being collected by Facebook from the Pixel.”
Spokespeople for all of the other companies said they were operating within IRS guidelines. TaxAct apparently discontinued using the pixel after being contacted by the reporters.
The report came as Meta is aiming to rebound from successive scandals that date back to 2016’s Cambridge Analytica debacle. Last year, multiple news outlets reported on “The Facebook Papers,” resulting in over 100 stories detailing a range of issues, from ignoring human trafficking taking place on the site to ineffective content moderation to playing a role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
The company rebranded as Meta in the midst of the revelations.