Tax dodgers beware: IRS could be watching your social media

The IRS is said to be data mining Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other sites for info that could come handy in audits.

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IRS Facebook page. Screenshot by Dara Kerr/CNET

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have all become places where people post intimate details about their lives: vacation photos, work successes, buying a new house, car, or other cool stuff.

However, this information is also up for grabs by the Internal Revenue Service.

The taxman is reportedly using data from social media on people who file fishy-seeming taxes or don't file at all, according to Marketplace. The IRS loses roughly $300 billion per year to tax evasion; and in times of budget cuts, with a smaller staff, the agency has allegedly turned to both data mining and data crunching.

In its quest to find and audit tax dodgers, the IRS is said to use online activity trackers to sift through the mass amounts of data available on the Internet, according to Marketplace. This data is then added to the information the agency already has on people, such as Social Security numbers, health records, banking statements, and property.

"It seems they may be using predictive analytics," University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communication Professor Joseph Turow told Marketplace. "That takes a huge amount of data and puts it together in a big pot to see if they can predict which individuals don't pay their taxes."

The IRS is reportedly only looking at information that's public, so as long as people keep a tight privacy lock on their accounts, they should be okay...maybe.

Last year, it was revealed that the IRS was claiming the right to read taxpayers' email and private information on social media accounts without first getting a search warrant. After a brouhaha from civil liberties groups, citizens, and lawmakers, the IRS announced the no-warrant-required policy would be ditched for email, but it did not make the same commitment for other private electronic communications.

 

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