A class action lawsuit is alleging that H&R Block, Google, and Meta “jointly schemed” to install trackers on the H&R Block site to scan and transmit tax data back to the tech companies, which then used the data for targeted advertising.
The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of California, stems from a Congressional report released earlier this year detailing the way multiple tax preparation firms, including H&R Block, “recklessly” shared the sensitive tax data of tens of millions of Americans without proper safeguards. At issue are the tax preparation firms’ use of tracking “pixels” placed on their websites.
These trackers, which the lawsuit refers to as “spy cams,” would allegedly scan tax documents and reveal a variety of personal tax information, including a filer’s name, filing status, federal taxes owed, address, and number of dependents. That data was then anonymized and used for targeted advertising and to train Meta’s AI algorithms, the congressional report notes.
The IRS places strong privacy protections over tax data and has rules prohibiting tax preparation firms from using that information for any reason other than assisting in tax returns.
The lawsuit alleges that H&R Block, Meta, and Google “explicitly and intentionally” entered into an agreement to violate taxpayers’ privacy rights for financial gain. The suit seeks full refunds for Hunt and all US taxpayers who spent money on H&R Block’s services since the tracking began, as well as punitive damages for the three companies’ allegedly illegal conduct.
The lawsuit also alleges that Google interacted with the tax data through H&R Block’s use of Google Analytics, a free service offered to businesses that collect data from websites. An estimated 70 per cent of the top 100,000 websites use Google Analytics.
Google bills its tool as a means for businesses to glean insights about potential customers, however, the lawsuit alleged the search giant deployed Google Analytics to “intercept, track, and collect personal and sensitive information of consumers for its own use.”
The sources for this piece include an article in Gizmodo.