Credit: The Apple Card’s ‘black-box’ algorithm
Some customers are accusing the new Apple credit card of sexism, said Neil Vigdor in The New York Times. The Apple Card, a joint venture with Goldman Sachs, rolled out to much fanfare as a “revolutionary ‘digital first’” credit card this fall, but its algorithm “to determine the creditworthiness of applicants” is now under investigation by New York state regulators. David Heinemeier Hansson, a prominent software developer, found that the Apple Card gave him a credit limit 20 times higher than his wife’s. Hansson said that Apple denied her request for an increase “even though she had a better credit score.” In fact, “I have had credit in the U.S. far longer than David,” his wife, Jamie Heinemeier Hansson, said in Fast Company. “I’ve never had a single late payment. I do not have any debts,” and while I am now technically a homemaker caring for our three children, “I had a career and was successful prior to meeting David” and “am still a millionaire who contributes greatly to my household.” There’s no way the Apple Card’s decision making makes any sense.
It’s not clear why Apple gave Jamie Hansson a “measly $57.24 credit limit,” said Jen Wieczner in Fortune.com, but “I’m not convinced the Apple Card is simply discriminating against women.” I “asked my husband to apply for an Apple Card. A couple of minutes later, his credit limit decision came back: $7,500. I checked my limit: $20,000—or almost triple what my husband got.” As with the Hanssons, our credit situations are very similar; we have almost identical credit scores, and no debt. There are much less “nefarious factors” than sex discrimination that can explain what happened, said Diane Harris in Newsweek. Yes, a wife “who earns a lot less than her husband and lists only her own income on a card application” can end up with a low limit. But rules passed in 2013 let spouses combine their incomes when applying for a credit card, and that doesn’t seem to be the issue here. However, there’s more to determining the limit than the credit score and income, including “how much you regularly spend on your cards.” Someone with an excellent credit score and a high income might have a lower limit than “someone with a similar score and income who charges a lot every month.”
“This is going to keep happening,” said mathematician Cathy O’Neil in Slate.com, until a company like Apple “unmasks its algorithm.” There may be explanations other than discrimination—I spend more than my husband, and it wouldn’t surprise me if I got a higher limit. Does Apple use that kind of behavioral information? Or demographic profiling? “I don’t know, and point is that we should.” ■