What just happened? Angry tweets from veteran programmer David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of Ruby on Rails and co-founder of Basecamp, went viral yesterday after alleging that the algorithm making credit decisions for the Apple Card, backed by Goldman Sachs, is making inherently sexist decisions. The tweets have prompted the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) to investigate.
At what point do we decide that decisions taken by machine learning algorithms are inherently discriminatory, if in fact they can be? It’s a question that is only going to become more pressing in the modern era as human brains are taken out of the decision-making process in more industries.
The latest allegations of algorithmic discrimination come from David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder of Basecamp, who in a series of tweets has said that he received twenty-times the credit limit his wife received when applying for an Apple Card, despite there being no material differences in their credit worthiness.
Hansson’s original tweet was shared almost 5,000 times and garnered a lot of attention, including from the New York Department of Financial Services, who have confirmed that they will be investigating to see if the algorithm is inherently gender-biased.
A spokesperson for the NYDFS said “the department will be conducting an investigation to determine whether New York law was violated and ensure all consumers are treated equally regardless of sex.” They continued, “any algorithm, that intentionally or not results in discriminatory treatment of women or any other protected class of people violates New York law.”
It appears that Hansson and his wife were not the only ones facing the issue. Numerous replies to Hansson’s original post claim that they too have suffered discrimination, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who claimed “The same thing happened to us.”
The same thing happened to us. I got 10x the credit limit. We have no separate bank or credit card accounts or any separate assets. Hard to get to a human for a correction though. It’s big tech in 2019.
— Steve Wozniak (@stevewoz) 10 November 2019
Goldman Sachs, who backs the Apple Card, said in a statement, “Our credit decisions are based on a customer’s creditworthiness and not on factors like gender, race, age, sexual orientation or any other basis prohibited by law.”
But interestingly Hansson’s wife immediately had her credit limit adjusted after the tweets went viral, suggesting there is room for change given the right PR disaster.