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The Apple Card, a collaborative product between tech giant Apple and financial services company Goldman Sachs, is under investigation after a gender discrimination complaint went viral on Twitter.
Prominent software developer and entrepreneur David Heinemeier Hansson called the Apple card “a f**king sexist program” in a Twitter thread on November 7 after his wife, Jamie Hansson, was denied a credit line increase. He said that, although they shared finances, and Mrs. Hansson even had a better credit score than him, the Apple card algorithm still treated her like a credit risk.
“My wife and I filed joint tax returns, live in a community-property state, and have been married for a long time,” Hansson wrote on Twitter. “Yet Apple’s black box algorithm thinks I deserve 20x the credit limit she does.”
In the same Twitter thread, Hansson said that he and his wife had been in touch with several Apple Card customer representatives who told them they were not authorized to discuss the credit assessment process and were unable to explain why the algorithm made the decision on Mrs. Hansson’s creditworthiness.
The original tweet has since received 9.6k retweets, 25k likes, and even a reply from Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak regarding a similar experience.
“The same thing happened to us,” Wozniak wrote. “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.”
New York State regulators launch investigation
Hansson’s viral tweets caught the attention of Linda Lacewell, Superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS), who tweeted on November 9 that the department would “take a look.”
The New York Times quoted an official statement from the NYDFS which read: “DFS is troubled to learn of potential discriminatory treatment in regards to credit limit decisions reportedly made by an algorithm of Apple Card, issued by Goldman Sachs, and 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.”
Responses from Apple & Goldman Sachs
The Apple Card launched in the US in August as a partnership between the Apple Pay program and Goldman Sachs.
In its support page for the card’s credit approvals, Apple explains that “Goldman Sachs uses your credit score, your credit report, and the income you report on your application when reviewing your Apple Card application.” Past due accounts, a checking account closed by a bank for overdrafts, liens, and medical debts can negatively affect applications.
In a statement posted on the company’s official Twitter account, Goldman Sachs Bank CEO Carey Halio said that family members might receive significantly different credit decisions because applications are evaluated independently and that the company does not consider gender in determining credit limits.
“Some of our customers have told us they received lower credit lines than expected,” Halio wrote. “In many cases, this is because their existing credit cards are supplemental cards under their spouse’s primary account – which may result in the applicant having a limited personal credit history. Apple Card’s credit decision process isn’t aware of your marital status at the time of the application.”
The problem of the algorithm hasn’t been addressed
On November 8, Hansson tweeted that his wife got a “VIP bump” to match his credit limit after his complaint went viral. However, he added that the company did not address the root cause of the issue – the algorithm.
“Algorithms, for all that they’re supposedly based on artificial intelligence, rely on inputs from the real world that may reflect long-embedded discrimination against women or minority groups,” Hansson quoted LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik. “Financial service companies are responsible for ensuring the algorithms they use do not even unintentionally discriminate against protected groups.”
On November 11, Mrs. Hansson wrote a blog post urging Apple to do better, saying that although the decision to raise her Apple Card’s credit limit did not matter to her livelihood, she was glad that her husband sparked “a national conversation around institutional biases, black-box algorithms, and the broken system that is our credit industry.”
“It matters for the woman struggling to start a business in a world that still seems to think women can’t be as successful or creditworthy as men,” she says. “It matters to the wife trying to get out of an abusive relationship. It matters to minorities harmed by institutional biases. It matters to so many.”
“Brilliant women are all over social media, using their voices to strive for a better way forward. Listen to them,” Mrs. Hansson concluded.