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Long Islanders weigh in on alleged sex bias in a credit card algorithm

"Is it sexist? What else could it be?" said Melville resident Mary Ann Pistilli, 72, of the allegation, which has been denied by Goldman Sachs, co-manager of the Apple Card. Credit: Newsday/Daysi Calavia-Robertson

Allegations of gender bias in an algorithm used in issuing the new Apple Card are setting Long Islanders atwitter and prompting an inquiry by a state agency. 

The controversy gained momentum from a series of viral tweets by a computer programmer who questioned why he was granted a credit limit 20 times higher than his wife's even though her credit score is higher.

“Is it sexist? What else could it be?” said Melville resident Mary Ann Pistilli, 72, who was food shopping at a supermarket on Route 110.

Devon Gisbert, 28, of Middle Island, who was leaving a workout at a Blink Fitness gym in Melville, said the presumption that women should have a lower credit score is "archaic."

"The company should set credit limits based on an individual financial history and scores, not based on gender."

A spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Financial Services told The Associated Press that the agency will investigate.

In a statement, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which manages the credit card operation in partnership with Apple, denied that gender plays a role in making credit decisions.

"We look at an individual’s income and an individual’s creditworthiness, which includes factors like personal credit scores, how much debt you have, and how that debt has been managed," the statement said. "Based on these factors, it is possible for two family members to receive significantly different credit decisions."

Calls to Apple were not immediately returned.

A series of tweets by web developer David Heinemeier Hansson last week prompted an online outcry, with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak tweeting over the weekend that he also got a higher credit score than his wife.

Hansson's original tweets, which included some sarcasm and salty language, said he and his wife had been married "for a long time" and filed joint tax returns. "Yet Apple's black box algorithm thinks I deserve 20x the credit limit she does."

Another tweet said: "I’m surprised that they even let her apply for a card without the signed approval of her spouse? I mean, can you really trust women with a credit card these days??!"

But Queens resident Sophia Davis, 50, said men having higher credit limits than their wives makes no sense in households where the incomes are combined.
“If it’s all coming from the same pot… what makes him more qualified than I am?” she said while outside a Starbucks in Melville on Monday.

Michael Agin, a shopper at Airport Plaza in East Farmingdale, said a friend got Apple's titanium card, which he said "looked pretty cool." At the same time, Agin said, he has two daughters and "I wouldn't want them discriminated against."

Another Airport Plaza shopper, Sheriann Morales, 21, of West Babylon, said companies should be gender blind and if there is discrimination, the state should launch an inquiry.

Algorithms, mathematical programs that guide computerized decisions, have been accused of bias in the past. In October 2018, Reuters reported that Amazon.com had scrapped recruiting software with artificial intelligence that discriminated against female job candidates.

Lawmakers in the European Union and the U.S. Congress are considering legislation that would force companies to audit their algorithms for bias.

With Daysi Calavia-Robertson, Tory N. Parrish and Victor Ocasio.

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