WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren blasted Goldman Sachs’ response to claims of biased decision-making against women applying for the popular Apple Card, as consumer complaints reignited a sweeping debate over the role of algorithms in consumer finance.

Goldman, which oversees the banking decisions on the card, has responded to the flood of criticism by asking aggrieved customers to request a second look at credit-limit decisions.

“Yeah, great. So let’s just tell every woman in America, ‘You might have been discriminated against, on an unknown algorithm, it’s on you to telephone Goldman Sachs and tell them to straighten it out,’” Warren said in an interview from Concord, N.Y. “Sorry guys, that’s not how it works.”

The flashy new partnership between Apple Inc. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has been embroiled in controversy in recent days after social media postings fueled by a tech entrepreneur and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak highlighted unequal treatment in how the card handed out credit lines, sparking a probe by a New York regulator.

The 70-year-old senator from Massachusetts conceived of and helped establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under President Barack Obama and has frequently spoken out on issues tied to access to credit for consumers. Apple and Goldman Sachs are caught up in a growing debate over whether lenders unintentionally discriminate when they use complex models for lending money to Americans. Consumer advocates argue computers can produce biased results even without information on race and gender from credit applicants.

“We’re all beginning to understand better that algorithms are only as good as the data that gets packed into them,” Warren said. “And if a lot of discriminatory data gets packed in, in other words, if that’s how the world works, and the algorithm is doing nothing but sucking out information about how the world works, then the discrimination is perpetuated.”

It’s the company’s responsibility to come forward with the information about how that algorithm was designed and the exact impact of it, she said. “And if they can’t do it, then they need to pull it down.”

Earlier Wednesday, Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said he’s looking into the validity of claims of bias against women in applications for the Apple Card.

Goldman has said it doesn’t make decisions based on factors like gender and that it has the ability to identify which factors from an individual’s credit report contributed to a particular decision — suggesting that the criticism about the models operating like a black box is unfair. The firm hasn’t indicated if it plans to offer greater disclosure on the weighting of various factors that contribute to a credit decision.

One reason Goldman became a poster child for the issue is that the Apple Card, unlike offerings from much of the industry, doesn’t let households share accounts. That could lead to family members getting significantly different credit limits. On Wednesday, the firm said it will introduce the ability for household members to share an Apple Card credit line.

A representative for Goldman had no immediate response to Warren’s comments.


(Natarajan and Nasiripour reported from New York and Egkolfopoulou from Washington.)


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