Popular tax filing services such as TaxAct, TaxSlayer, and H&R Block have been quietly sharing sensitive information about their users—including names, email addresses, income, filing status, refund amounts, and dependents’ college scholarship amounts—with Facebook, via a widespread code called the Meta Pixel.
A new report from The Markup, published in collaboration with The Verge on Tuesday, revealed these findings. The Markup tracked websites’ use of the Meta Pixel as part of the Pixel Hunt, a partnership with Mozilla Rally, to find the data trail.
Facebook can use the personal data sent by these tax services to inform its advertising algorithms, regardless of if the person using the service also has an account on Facebook or another Meta platform. However, Meta says it filters out any potentially sensitive data sent through its pixel, including financial information.
??“Advertisers should not send sensitive information about people through our Business Tools,” a Meta spokesperson said in a statement to Fast Company. “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.”
The Markup also found that TaxAct was sending financial data to Google Analytics through the pixel, though that data did not include users’ names. Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“At H&R Block, we take protecting our clients’ privacy very seriously, and we are taking steps to mitigate the sharing of client information via pixels,” Angela Davied, a spokesperson for H&R Block, told Fast Company. Tax Act and Tax Slayer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
These tax filing services aren’t the first companies to feed customer information to Facebook. After Apple made it more difficult for apps to track iPhone users across other apps and the mobile web, a growing number of tech startups have been helping companies send data to ad platforms like Facebook, to try to improve ad targeting.