This weekend, with astonishing speed, a viral Twitter thread prompted a New York State investigation into alleged gender discrimination by the Apple Card and its banking partner Goldman Sachs. On Thursday, Basecamp CTO and Ruby on Rails creator David Heinemeier Hansson called bullshit on the Apple Card’s alleged decision to award him “20x” the credit limit of his wife, despite the fact that they file joint tax returns and that her credit score is higher. Goldman Sachs offered somewhat thin gruel in its justifications for determining credit worthiness but emphasised that it looks forward to allowing customers to “share their Apple Card with other members of their families”–which I can only interpret to mean “wives.”
On Thursday, Basecamp CTO and Ruby on Rails creator David Heinemeier Hansson called bullshit on the Apple Card’s inexplicable decision to award him “20x” the credit limit of his wife, despite the fact that they file joint tax returns and that her credit score is higher. Several others, including Steve Wozniak, chimed in with the same story. According to Hansson, Apple’s customer service reps fell back on the aw-shucks line, per the industry custom.
The @AppleCard is such a fucking sexist program. My wife and I filed joint tax returns, live in a community-property state, and have been married for a long time. Yet Apple’s black box algorithm thinks I deserve 20x the credit limit she does. No appeals work.
— DHH (@dhh) November 7, 2019
The same thing happened to us. We have no separate bank accounts or credit cards or assets of any kind. We both have the same high limits on our cards, including our AmEx Centurion card. But 10x on the Apple Card.
— Steve Wozniak (@stevewoz) November 10, 2019
I am full-time employed, $100K+ a year. I got $7500 credit limit. My husband has never been working in this country, he’s here as my dependent. He got $8500 credit limit. It’s still the “rando who married” issue?
— Katya Pugacheva (@kat_pugacheva) November 11, 2019
Hansson reported that Apple finally raised his wife’s credit limit, though various customer service representatives feigned ignorance of the algorithm’s mysterious workings and told them to pay the $36 to check their credit scores, at which point they found that his wife’s score was higher than his own.
To which Steve Wozniak replied: “A human manager at a rather low level should have the authorisation to correct your situation. That’s how it worked at HP in 1972-6 when I worked there. But those good values don’t carry over to tech companies today.”
By Saturday, New York Department of Financial Services superintendent Linda Lacewell jumped in to say that NDFS would “take a look.” In a statement on Saturday night, NYDFS told the New York Times that an investigation is underway, and Lacewell published a lengthier statement on Medium, noting that last week, NYDFS opened an investigation into claims that UnitedHealth Group’s algorithm discriminates based on race.
Whatever algorithmic dice-rolling is at play, we’re not surprised. After reviewing the Apple Card, Gizmodo’s Victoria Song received numerous emails and comments reflecting capriciously assigned credit limits and interest rates (amongst men, as well).
“It wouldn’t surprise me if there was something wonky with Goldman Sach’s algorithm,” Song said. “Anecdotally, while reviewing the card plenty Gizmodo readers sounded off in the comments and in my inbox. While I have a Transunion score of about 800, I was given a $US6,500 ($9,481) limit and an interest rate of 17.99 per cent. A male reader with the same credit score meanwhile, emailed me to say he’d gotten 12.99% and a $US10,000 ($14,586) limit. More broadly, we got plenty of readers who were downright confused as the algorithm didn’t seem to scan compared to their other credit cards.”
In a phone call, a Goldman Sachs spokesperson claimed that the company does not collect data such as race, gender, and marital status and claimed that by law Goldman Sachs can not comment on individual accounts. But in an official statement, Goldman Sachs goes as far as to insinuate that women are getting short shrift because they’re not primary breadwinners.
We look at an individual’s income and an individual’s creditworthiness, which includes factors like personal credit scores, how much personal debt you have, and how that debt has been managed. Based on these individual factors, it is possible for two family members to receive significantly different credit decisions.
We have not and will not make decisions based on factors like gender.
They added that customers will soon be able to share Apple Cards with “other family members,” which I can only assume means: “wives.”
Goldman Sachs did not immediately respond to our request for a list of all the factors that go into determining Apple Card approvals.
According to the New York Times, Apple has pawned off media requests to Goldman Sachs. As of this writing, Apple has not returned Gizmodo’s request for comment.
Gizmodo has also reached out to the New York Department of Financial Services and David Heinemeier Hansson and will update the post if we hear back.