In 1982, the movie Blade Runner presented a technologically advanced vision of the year 2019. There were flying cop cars. (What grim dystopian movie doesn’t feature flying cars?) There was commercial space travel. There were bioengineered androids, known as “replicants,” that drove the story. The film even predicted voice-controlled video phones to communicate with our offices!

Today’s reality isn’t quite so exciting. We’ve got the voice-activated video phones! But we’re not using them to summon flying cars or book trips to the Moon. No, we’re using them to waste time checking Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We pick up our phone every 12 minutes on average, and spend three hours and 35 minutes per day with our heads buried in our screens. Psychiatrists have even identified “internet addiction disorder” as a “condition for further study.”

Well, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. The IRS manages several Twitter feeds for taxpayers and professionals that are worth following. But now they’re looking to get even more involved. We’re not talking about auditors posting pictures of their dogs (although we’d totally follow that, too). Instead, they want to investigate whether social media can help them collect taxes.

Current IRS rules generally prohibit employees from using any social media at work. They specifically can’t create fake accounts to “friend” you and snoop on your finances. But the IRS knows that people post enormous amounts of information online, information they can use to help with collections. So last month, the IRS issued a request for information and product demonstrations from electronic research vendors. They’re hoping to find a vendor who can:

  • “Provide a product that is easily explainable in court.”
  • “Provide real time, customizable reports of publicly available social media information (provided or advertised by businesses), such as new products, current sales, and new locations.”
  • “Provide reports showing that a taxpayer participated in an online chat room, blog, or forum, and reports showing the chat room or blog conversation threads.”
  • “Provide available biometric data, such as photos, current address, or changes to marital status.”
  • “Provide access for at least 25,000 concurrent users.”

Show of hands here: who wants any part of the government tracking your profile photos, status alerts, or chat room conversations? The good news is that, at least for now, the IRS would use their new super power for good, not evil. “Such a tool would not be used to search the internet or social media sites for purposes of identifying or initiating new tax audits.” Of course, that doesn’t mean the IRS won’t get more aggressive down the road, using predictive analytics and social media as part of a broader effort to target specific taxpayers for extra attention.

The IRS’s move towards harnessing social media is part of a broader movement to put “Big Data” to work for various goals. But data isn’t always bad. Here at our firm, we’re using it to help clients like you pay less tax. So call us when you’re ready to join the future. Someday your savings might pay for your own flying car!

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