Popular tax preparation software sent financial information to Meta:report

Meta (formerly Facebook) corporate headquarters is seen on November 9, 2022 in Menlo Park, California.

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Popular tax preparation software including tax lawTaxSlayer and H&R block sent confidential financial information to Facebook’s parent company Meta Through its widely distributed code, known as a pixel, it helps developers track user activity on their websites, research by The Markup has found.

In a report published Tuesday with The Verge, the outlet found that in-software Meta pixel trackers had sent information like names, email addresses, income information and refund amounts to Meta, in violation of their policies. The markup also found that TaxAct had submitted similar financial information to Google via his analysis tool, although this data did not contain names.

As CNBC explained in 2018, Meta uses tiny pixels that publishers and businesses embed on their websites. The points send a message back to Facebook when you visit. And it allows businesses to target ads to people based on websites they’ve previously visited.

According to the report, Facebook could use the information from the tax websites to power its advertising algorithms even if someone using the tax service doesn’t have a Facebook account. This is another example of how Facebook’s tools can be used to track people around the web, even when users don’t know it.

Some statements to The Markup suggest that it may be a bug.

A spokesman for Ramsey Solutions, a financial advisory and software company that uses a version of TaxSlayer, told The Markup that it “DID NOT know and was never notified that Facebook was collecting personal tax information through the pixel” and that the company is informing TaxSlayer to disable SmartTax pixel tracking.

A spokesman for H&R Block said the company “takes the protection of our customers’ privacy very seriously and we are taking steps to reduce the sharing of customer information through pixels”.

The Markup discovered the data trail earlier this year through a project with Mozilla Rally called “Pixel Hunt,” in which participants installed a browser extension that sent the group a copy of the data shared with Meta about their pixel.

“Advertisers should not send sensitive information about individuals through our business tools,” a Meta spokesperson told CNBC in a statement. “This is against our policies and we are advising advertisers on how to properly set up business tools to prevent this.” Our system is designed to filter out potentially sensitive data that it can recognize.”

Meta considers information about income, loan amounts and debt levels to be potentially sensitive information.

“All data in Google Analytics is obfuscated, meaning it is not tied to any individual, and our policies prohibit customers from sending us data that could be used to identify a user,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC . “In addition, Google has a strict policy against advertising to individuals based on confidential information.”

“The privacy of our customers is very important to all of us at TaxAct, and we continue to comply with all laws and IRS regulations,” a TaxAct spokesman said in a statement. “Data provided to Facebook is used by TaxAct on an aggregate level and not on an individual level to analyze our advertising effectiveness. TaxAct does not use the information provided by its customers and referenced in the report published by The Markup to serve targeted advertising with Facebook. “

A TaxSlayer representative did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Read the full report on The Verge.

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