A group of Democratic lawmakers is calling for an investigation after a congressional probe found that three major tax prep companies—H&R Block, TaxAct, and Tax Slayer—sent “extraordinarily sensitive” taxpayer information to Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta.
According to the 54-page report released Wednesday, the three companies “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” over at least two years.
The report noted the data sharing came through Meta’s Pixel code, which the tax firms each installed to use for marketing improvement purposes on their websites. The probe followed reporting by the Markup last November, who similarly found that some hospitals were providing private data to Meta through the same code.
In a letter sent Wednesday to the heads of the IRS, the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and the IRS watchdog, the seven lawmakers who oversaw the probe called their findings “outrageous and potentially illegal.”
“The tax prep firms were shockingly careless with their treatment of taxpayer data,” the letter reads. “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, which called for an immediate investigation, was signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), as well as Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.).
The data shared with the Facebook parent company included full names, zip codes, phone numbers, taxpayers’ filing status, approximate adjusted gross income, approximate refund amount, names of dependents, and more, according to the seven lawmakers.
They noted that during their investigation the tax prep companies claimed the data was shared anonymously. However, the Federal Trade Commission and other experts “have indicated that the data could easily be used to identify individuals, or to create a dossier on them that could be used for targeted advertising or other purposes.”
The letter states that Meta confirmed it did indeed use “the data to target ads to taxpayers, including for companies other than the tax prep companies themselves, and to train Meta’s own AI algorithms.”
Meta placed the blame squarely on the tax prep companies on Wednesday, saying it has been clear in its policies that advertisers “should not send sensitive information about people through our Business Tools,” according to the Associated Press. The social media giant’s handling of data has previously, frequently come under criticism.