R. Brent Wisner, a seasoned trial lawyer known for securing a nearly $90 million verdict against Monsanto, has filed a class-action lawsuit against H&R Block. The suit, filed in a California federal court, alleges that the tax preparation giant collaborated with tech behemoths Meta and Google in embedding "spyware" on its website. This covert operation purportedly aimed to profit from scraped tax return data, raising serious concerns about data privacy and consumer rights.
The class-action suit is brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a law primarily associated with organized crime-related charges. This is the first-ever RICO suit targeting H&R Block, signaling the gravity of the allegations.
According to the lawsuit, H&R Block, in partnership with Meta and Google, utilized tracking pixels on its website to gather personal information from clients. These tracking pixels, or small files, allowed the three corporations to amass a wealth of data about visitors without their knowledge or consent.
The suit contends that these corporations failed to adequately inform consumers about the collection and sale of their data, establishing a comprehensive program to deceive and share data for their own financial gain. The allegations, if proven true, would constitute a flagrant breach of numerous privacy laws.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently notified H&R Block and four other tax preparation services of impending penalties for unauthorized use of consumer data for advertising purposes. Under the Internal Revenue Code, tax preparation organizations are strictly prohibited from sharing customer information except for the purpose of preparing returns.
A July congressional investigation revealed that H&R Block, through the Meta Pixel, shared a significant amount of data, including sensitive tax-related information. Despite claims by the involved parties that all data was anonymized, the FTC has raised concerns that it could potentially be used to identify individuals, potentially leading to targeted advertising or other nefarious purposes.
This legal battle not only sheds light on the alleged wrongdoings of H&R BloBlockt also raises questions about the responsibility of tech giants like Meta and Google to safeguard user data. The case underscores the pressing need for stronger regulations and oversight in the realm of data privacy.
R. Brent Wisner, recognized with Law360's prestigious "Titan of the Plaintiff's Bar" award in 2018 for his prowess in large-scale litigation, is once again at the forefront of a legal battle with far-reaching implications. This lawsuit serves as a powerful reminder that even industry giants are not immune to legal scrutiny when it comes to protecting consumer rights and data privacy.
In the backdrop of Wisner's previous triumph against Monsanto's Roundup weed pesticide, this legal showdown promises to be a pivotal moment in the ongoing struggle for consumer privacy and corporate accountability.