1 of 4 | A group of lawmakers led Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is urging the Justice Department to investigate several notable tax prep software companies including H&R Block, over allegations they may have illegally shared personal data with big tech firms. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
July 12 (UPI) -- Democratic lawmakers are urging the Justice Department to investigate several notable tax prep software companies including H&R Block, over allegations they may have illegally shared personal data with tech firms.
The effort is being spearheaded by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who co-authored a letter sent Wednesday to Attorney General Merrick Garland, as well as the chair of the Federal Trade Commission, IRS Commissioner and Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
Warren alleges H&R Block as well as TaxAct and TaxSlayer, "recklessly shared personal and financial data of millions of taxpayers" with Google and Facebook parent company Meta including basic information such as email addresses and names, and more sensitive financial intelligence like income and filing status.
"Regulators need to fully investigate and prosecute those who violated the law," Warren wrote on Twitter.
The report released Wednesday by Warren, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., expands on a story published in November by The Markup.
That story shed light on how the three tax prep firms were sending data to both Google and Meta through a type of code referred to as Meta Pixel.
H&R Block said in a statement Wednesday that it has "taken steps to prevent the sharing of information via pixels."
Google said it has "strict policies and technical features" that prohibit customers of its Google Analytics service" from collecting identifying data.
"Site owners -- not Google -- are in control of what information they collect and must inform their users of how it will be used," a spokesperson said. "Additionally, Google has strict policies against advertising to people based on sensitive information."
A Meta spokesperson also said the company makes it clear to advertisers that they should not use its "Business Tools" to collect sensitive information from users.
"Doing so is against our policies and we educate our advertisers on properly setting up Business Tools to prevent this from occurring," the spokesperson said. "Our system is designed to filter out potentially sensitive data that it is able to detect."
In calling for the investigation, Warren and her co-authors believe the companies "may have violated taxpayer privacy laws," and are lobbying for criminal charges where appropriate.
The IRS will conduct a pilot program next year that will allow people to file taxes directly with the government agency rather than having to use a third-party tax prep software company.