Tax Planning Books & Other Resources

It’s Complicated

November 29th, 2022


Remember privacy? Of course, you don’t. Back in the 90s, you might have signed on to AOL expecting that when you got mail, it would be your business and nobody else’s. But now it’s 2022, and it’s all about the data. Your laptop and your phone, Siri and Alexa, your Ring doorbell cam and your Nest thermostat are all spying on you, tracking your movements and sending your data to our Big Tech overlords. Even toasters and hairbrushes have microchips now! Remember that scene in Toy Story when Woody rounds up Sid’s collection of battered and abused toys to fight back? It’s just a matter of time before the “internet of things” rounds up our data to move on us.

No one violates your privacy more than Meta, the parent company of Facebook, which created a snippet of Javascript called the “Meta Pixel” for web designers to drop into their code to hoover up visitor data (and send it back to the Mother Ship). In 2018, Facebook told Congress that there was an army of over 2 million Meta Pixels online, busily filling Facebook’s servers with your browser history. But that’s not because people actually like being tracked. Last year, Apple updated the iPhone’s operating system to block apps from tracking you without your explicit consent – and over 96% of users unfriended Facebook.

Surely, though, your tax information is private, right? The folks at the IRS don’t even use email! Don’t be so sure. Last week, The Verge reported that Meta has been quietly gathering data from online tax-filing sites:

  • If you filed last year’s return with TaxAct, the Pixel sent Facebook your filing status, your adjusted gross income, your refund amount, and the names of your dependents in an “obfuscated – but generally reversible” format.
  • If you filed with H&R Block, Facebook knows about your Health Savings Accounts and your dependents’ college tuition grants and expenses.
  • If you filed with TaxSlayer, the Pixel tried to match you with your actual Facebook account, then sent them your name, your dependents’ names, and your phone number.
  • If you used “Financial Peace,” author Dave Ramsey’s site, which white-labels TaxSlayer’s system, then Facebook got all the TaxSlayer stuff plus your income and refund amount.
  • Even TurboTax, the 800-pound-gorilla of online filing, sent Facebook users’ names and the last time a user logged on.

Representatives from those services said they were shocked at Facebook’s spying. Ramsey’s spokesperson was typical: “We did NOT know and were never notified that personal tax information was being collected by Facebook from the Pixel,” she said by email. “As soon as we found out, we immediately informed TaxSlayer to deactivate the Pixel from Ramsey SmartTax.” You would assume a company that’s smart enough to turn raw data into a compliant tax return would be smart enough to know how much of that data they would send to Facebook. Apparently, you would be wrong.

Naturally, the folks at Meta are furiously Zuck-splaining how the Pixel is really your friend – they use it to deliver “a better customer experience.” (Never mind that “better customer experience” is just Facebook-speak for “not wasting a single ad spot showing you an ad for something you already bought.”) Meanwhile, Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg himself is sitting with his face in shadows, stroking a white Persian cat, giggling at your pathetic naïveté.

We understand people want to save money by filing their taxes themselves. That’s often an expensive mistake. Good tax professionals (like us) don’t just tell you how much you owe – we tell you how to pay less. Now add privacy to the list of reasons to go pro, and our value only goes up!

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