Is Filing Taxes Online Safe? What US Expats Should Know

Older gentleman considering filing his US expat tax extension online meets with a Bright!Tax CPA for reassurance.

In today’s increasingly interconnected digital world, it’s natural to wonder if filing taxes online is safe for US expats. When we think about filing our taxes online, we seek efficiency, accuracy, and, most importantly, trustworthiness

However, recent developments have shown that not all tax preparation firms handle your sensitive data with the same degree of care and security.

An uncomfortable revelation: US taxpayer data at risk

A recent investigation published in The Markup unearthed disturbing news: several online tax filing services that were once considered safe havens for personal data have been sharing their clients’ private information with Big Tech companies, including Meta.

This operation isn’t a clumsy error or an accidental leak. Instead, it’s an orchestrated process facilitated by a deceptively small (and commonly used) piece of code known as the ‘Meta Pixel.’

What is the Meta Pixel?

The Meta Pixel is also known as the Facebook retargeting pixel that, as a baseline, helps companies track website visitor activity. It also plays a role in measuring advertising effectiveness. It is a small piece of code that, when used inappropriately, can operate as a courier to transmit your personal data straight into tech giants’ databases.

The information shared extends beyond simple identifiers like names and email addresses. More intimate details about income, filing status, refund amounts, the number of dependents, and even college scholarship information have been leaked. 

There are several ramifications here – and this isn’t just about data. It’s about lives, about the hard-working American individuals who entrusted their sensitive information to these tax filing services. It’s about the potential misuse of this information, the sense of feeling financially vulnerable, and the resulting emotional stress. In essence, this is a critical issue that demands attention and action.

A congressional investigation by Senators Elizabeth Warren, Ron Wyden, Richard Blumenthal, Tammy Duckworth, Bernie Sanders, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Representative Katie Porter has been formally opened. The initial report names several online tax filing services, such as H&R Block, TaxAct, and TaxSlayer.

Understanding the use of the Meta Pixel

As the investigation into the sharing of sensitive data with Big Tech companies unfolds, it’s natural to question why online tax filing services utilized the Meta Pixel in the first place. While its usage raises concerns about data privacy, there are reasons companies cite for implementing this controversial tool.

As mentioned previously, the primary purpose of the Meta Pixel is to enable targeted advertising and analytics. By embedding this pixel on their websites, companies can track user behavior and collect valuable data on website visitors. This information allows them to optimize marketing campaigns, tailor advertisements to specific audiences, and gain insights into user preferences.

Targeted advertising can be an effective strategy for tax filing service providers, helping them reach the right audience and deliver relevant content. It enables them to personalize their offerings, improving the overall user experience. Additionally, the data collected through the Meta Pixel can be used for analytics purposes, aiding in understanding user trends, identifying areas for improvement, and refining their services.

While these intentions may seem beneficial on the surface, it’s crucial to strike a balance between providing a tailored experience and safeguarding customer privacy. 

Companies have a responsibility to their customers and clients to handle user data with the utmost care – and they can do this quite simply by complying with privacy laws and regulations and exercising good-faith practices.

Bright!Tax CEO, Katelynn Minott

How to check if your data is safe: A step-by-step guide

Concerned about the security of your data with your chosen tax service provider? Fear not; determining whether your personal information is being kept secure is easier than you might think. 

Follow this simple, 3-step guide to put your mind at ease:

Step 1 – Inspect with a Right-Click

Begin by right-clicking on your tax service provider’s website and selecting ‘Inspect’. This action will open up the source code of the site, providing you with a behind-the-scenes glimpse of its inner workings.

Step 2 – Observe: Tracking the Data Flow

With the ‘Inspect’ panel now open, locate the ‘Network’ tab. Once found, give it a click.

From here, you’ll need to reload the webpage, letting the digital currents flow and enabling you to monitor the data’s journey through the site.

Step 3 – Search: Hunting for Clues

With the ‘Network’ tab open, it’s time to embark on a virtual hunt. Using the search function, you’ll scan for traces of the Meta Pixel, those elusive markers of potential data compromise. 

Enter the start of the pixel code into the search field exactly as follows: 

If this appears in the results, proceed with caution, as it could indicate the presence of the Meta Pixel and the potential compromise of your data.

Bright!Tax’s commitment to your privacy

In the midst of mounting concerns surrounding data privacy, Bright!Tax staunchly advocates for your confidentiality and security. And – we practice what we preach. We prioritize your privacy above all else, ensuring your personal information remains safeguarded throughout the tax preparation process.

We also work in “the cloud,” which allows us to securely store client data outside our physical laptops. In turn, client data is sequestered in what is effectively an Internet bunker, all of which is to assure that your data remains private and protected. 

Even further, we have implemented stringent measures to protect your data. Our commitment to privacy encompasses both technological and procedural safeguards. We utilize advanced encryption protocols, robust firewalls, and regularly updated security systems to fortify our digital infrastructure. Additionally, our team undergoes rigorous training to ensure compliance with industry-leading standards and regulations. We also closely follow the latest IRS guidelines around online privacy best practices.

All this to say, we take pride in our transparent approach, and we welcome questions regarding our privacy practices. By choosing Bright!Tax, you not only gain access to exceptional tax preparation services but also join a community of individuals who prioritize privacy and security. 

US expat meets her Bright!Tax US expat CPA to discuss FBAR filing requirements.

Need help securely navigating US taxes overseas?

We understand the concern around privacy and the need to protect yours. Our team is ready to provide professional and reassuring expat tax guidance on your expat journey.

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  1. Creating a Written Information Security Plan for your Tax & Accounting Practice
  2. H&R Block and other tax-prep firms shared consumer data with Meta, lawmakers say

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Is Filing Taxes Online Safe for US Expats? FAQ

  • Is there anything I can do to ensure my data is secure while e-filing?

    Yes! Using a private connection through your personal Wi-Fi is a great way to boost your online security while e-filing. Moreover, the IRS notes that e-filing in general is a safe and acceptable practice. To ensure data protection with your e-filing provider, simply request to see a copy of their security plan for their tax and accounting practice, and don’t hesitate to probe them regarding their use of coding tools that track and analyze consumer behavior – you have every right to ask whether your data are used for purposes other than filing your return.