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H&R Block, Meta, and Google Slapped With RICO Suit

Gizmodo: “Anyone who has used H&R Block’s tax return preparation services in recent years may have unintentionally helped line Meta and Google’s pockets. That’s according to a new class action lawsuit which alleges the three companies “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 elements of the data to engage in targeted advertising. Attorneys bringing the case forward claim the three companies’ conduct amounts to a “pattern of racketeering activity” covered under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a tool typically reserved for organized crime. “H&R Block, Google, and Meta ignored data privacy laws, and passed information about people’s financial lives around like candy,” Brent Wisner, one of the attorneys bringing forward the complaint said. The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of California this week, stems from a bombshell 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.”

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